One of the most famous early photographers, Negre began as a painter in the studio of Paul Delaroche before devoting his main energies to photography. Out of all the students of Delaroche who took up photography, Negre was by far the most gifted at painting and continued to paint while practicing photography.
He was admitted to the l'Ecole des beaux-arts in 1841 but was unsuccessful in the contests at Rome in 1845. In 1844 he learned daguerreotypy and in 1849 began experimenting with paper printing processes. His rare early studies included some nudes, which were very likely studies for the tableaux paintings he would present to the Salons in 1850-51.
He most likely learnt the waxed paper process from Le Gray and was a founding member of the Societe heliographique as well as the SFP. From 1850 he practiced calotypy exclusively, often working with his colleague Le Secq. Like Le Secq, Negre showed a predisposition to photographing architectural views. He was not chosen for the Mission heliographique but in 1852 left for the Midi region of France contributing his own prints to the visual and architectural history of the land in the form of Le Midi de la France, sites et monuments historiques photographies par Charles Negre, peintre which was meant to comprise of 74 plates. Unfortunately, only 20 of these came to fruition.
Negre's most prolific period of calotypy was from 1849-1855 during which time he developed a strong friendship with Le Secq commemorated by a double-portrait of the two photographers on the roof of Notre Dame. In the beginning of 1850s his calotypes included portraits as well as genre scenes and architectural studies. His paintings often bear strike resemblance to these photographs including his famous pifferari. From 1853 Negre used wet-collodion plate negatives, which he used for the commissions 'portraits de Rachael' (1853) and Asile imperial de Vincennes (1861). But the process with which he was most absorbed from 1854 onward was heliogravure. Due to a complex personal process, he created beautiful plates, which were used to illustrated the monograph by Lassus on the Cathedral de Chartres and the journey of duc of Luynes.
Works by Charles Negre have been particularly well preserved thanks to the care of his descendants and to the collectors Andre and Marie-Therese Jammes.
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