In 1851 the French government's Commission des Monuments Historiques selected five photographers to document architectural treasures throughout the country. Nègre was not included, perhaps because he was a member of the opposition party, but he took it upon himself to photograph extensively in Marseilles, Arles, Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence in the early 1850s, and in 1854 he made many photographs of Chartres Cathedral.
Nègre applied his growing understanding of light, shadow, line, and form in Saint John the Evangelist, Chartres Cathedral, and the photograph beautifully illustrates his willingness to sacrifice "a few details," as he wrote, to capture "an imposing effect." In addition, unlike photographers associated with the Commission des Monuments Historiques, who were asked to provide general studies of a building's façade, Nègre was free to explore more unusual views. The statue of Saint John the Evangelist is situated high in the north spire of Chartres, several feet above a nearby balcony. Although difficult to see and even harder for Nègre to record (he most likely perched his camera on a platform), the view in his photograph succinctly captured what he called the cathedral's "real character" and "preserved the poetic charm that surrounded it."
Marie-Thérèse and André Jammes, Paris; sale, Sotheby's (Paris), 22 March 2002; Charles Isaacs Photographs, Malvern, PA, 2002; NGA purchase, 2003.
- In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes Before the Digital Age, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2009 - 2010, unnumbered catalogue.