The J. Paul Getty Museum

The Brig

Object Details


The Brig


Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820 - 1884)




Normandy, France (Place Created)




Albumen silver prints from glass negatives

Object Number:



32.1 × 40.8 cm (12 5/8 × 16 1/16 in.)

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Object Description

The contre-jour [backlighted]effect and the passing gleam of light on the water produced by a momentary opening in the clouds aroused the wonder and envy of all photographers who saw this picture at the many exhibitions in which it was subsequently shown. The "moonlight" effect...was due to the necessary exposure.

So wrote a reviewer after the photograph was first exhibited in 1856. Though no seam can be found between sea and sky, viewers speculated that this image, like other seascapes by Le Gray, was a combination print. In the 1850s, it was virtually impossible to render both sea and sky in the same negative. If the photographer exposed the film so that the sea or land was fully rendered, the sky would be overexposed and appear white; if exposed for the sky, the sea or land would appear dark as a silhouette. As it happened, the luminosity of the cloud-laden sky was equal to that of the water, making it possible for Le Gray to render each area exquisitely in a single negative. Here the sun breaks through the clouds at the upper right and reflects on the sea's shimmering surface directly below. The brig appears to sail just into or out of the watery clearing.

- 1984

Samuel Wagstaff, Jr., American, 1921 - 1987, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1984.

Gustave Le Gray (May 3 to August 28, 1988)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), May 3 to August 28, 1988
Gustave Le Gray, Photographer (July 9 to September 29, 2002)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), July 9 to September 29, 2002
Courbet and the Modern Landscape (February 21, 2006 to January 7, 2007)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), February 21 to May 14, 2006
Impressionists on the Water (June 1, 2013 to February 16, 2014)
  • Peabody Essex Museum (Salem), October 9, 2013 to February 16, 2014
Real / Ideal: Photography in France, 1847-1860 (August 30 to November 27, 2016)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), August 30 to November 27, 2016

Baldwin, Gordon. Gustave Le Gray, exhibition brochure (Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum 1988), cover.

Hellman, Karen, ed. Real/Ideal: Photography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century France, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2016), pl. 118.