Charles Aubry (1811–1877) is highly regarded for his impeccable photographic still lifes. Untitled (A Study of Leaves) (1864) is the first work by the artist to be acquired by the National Gallery of Art. It complements the various still life paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs already in the collection, from the celebrated Dutch paintings of the 17th century to the works of modern artists such as Paul Cézanne, Edward Weston, and Irving Penn.
Working in a variety of sizes, Aubry made about 200 photographs of flowers and fruit. His larger prints, such as Untitled (A Study of Leaves), have a dazzling luminosity. Using a technique of his own invention, Aubry dipped leaves and flowers into plaster and placed them in elaborate arrangements, piling different varieties on top of one another. The plaster coating enhanced the texture and three-dimensionality of the foliage and allowed him to capture detail in green objects such as leaves (his collodion negatives were overly sensitive to the color green). Aubry often arranged his still lifes on a table, lit them from above, and photographed them from a downward angle to fully illuminate each element and to minimize shadows. He also was known to hang objects on a fabric-covered wall and light them straight on for the same reasons.