The Beech Tree
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Gustave Le Gray
French, about 1855 - 1857
Albumen silver print
12 7/16 x 16 1/4 in.

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A beech tree in the Forest of Fontainebleau rears back as if to begin a bow to the photographer who would so majestically immortalize it. Of the many studies Gustave Le Gray made in Fontainebleau, a popular destination for artists and vacationing Parisians in the mid-nineteenth century, this photograph is the nearest to a portrait. With its gnarly roots exposed, the tree assumes center stage, a majestic and commanding force of nature whose trunk glows in the direct sunlight as if lit from within. Its leaves shimmer in the sun's glow, making the dense foliage appear weightless.