Andre Giroux 1801-1879

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Biography

One of the greatest early photographers, Andre Giroux nevertheless has a peculiar reputation. A prolific, award-winning, well-exhibited painter and draughtsman, his career spanned several decades of the nineteenth century. Yet, he is best known today for his few known photographs taken in a short burst of activity, principally between 1853-55. 

This is all the more surprising given his family friendship and business relationship with Daguerre, and the shared vision evident in all Giroux's work, whether it be oil on paper or canvas, pen and ink, pencil or salt print, and given the ways in which he blurred the boundaries between these media. As a plein-aire painter, working directly in front of the motif, he often used oil on paper, not canvas, and then reworked the result in the studio, and as a photographer he was not afraid to enhance the effect of clouds or water by adding watercolour to the negative prior to printing, or embellishing the photograph itself by painting over it in gouache or watercolour.


The ways in which Giroux bridged painting and photography attracted particular attention from his contemporaries. Ernest Lacan, the art critic, who was the first to promote Giroux's photographic work, asserted:

"About two years ago, when the prints were revealed by this artist, they stirred up a great deal of amazement. Their beautiful skies, transparent waters and general neatness were so strikingly different from what had been seen so far that we could have thought a new process had been devised that outmatched any other ones that that might have been created before. But the key to this enigma was very quickly found: it was established that M. Giroux's landscapes had been skilfully edited on the picture itself and that the clouds had been hand drawn and that the painter's skill had a lot to do with the extraordinary effect of those prints".

But despite contemporary recognition of this inter-related more recent institutional patronage suggests a divided identity. Whilst museums such as the National Gallery, London, National Gallery Washington and Metropolitan Museum consider Giroux as a landscape painter, institutions such as the Getty regard Giroux principally as a photographer. Giroux's works in pencil, ink, watercolour, oil painting as well as salted paper photogtaphs aconfirm the view of Giroux's contemporaries that there was no meaninful distinction between the different media employed by the artist, such is the shared aesthetic embodied by all Giroux's work.

At the centre of Giroux's work is landscape and Giroux stands at a significant junction in French landscape painting, somewhere between the ideal and the real, the mythological and the mundane, studio practise and pleine-aire painting. As such Giroux's long career serves as a bridge between mythological landscape, the pioneering realism of the Barbizon painters and the Impressionism of a new generation.

At the heart of his engagement with landscape are a number of recurrent motifs: water, including rivers, streams, pools, torrents and waterfalls; rocks, trees and rustic dwellings embedded in the landscape. There are few portraits, although there are several figure studies for the people that are often busily active in his major paintings. Towns barely appear, although pictures of Vichy suggest an urban environment, and there are few suggestions of settlements bigger than farms or hamlets.

A renowned painter at the age of 18 years, in 1825, Giroux won the prix de Rome, spending time in Rome where he painted alongside Corot.

André Giroux travelled throughout his life looking for picturesque landscapes and in the 1850s, the only decade known for his photographic work, the artistic effect of his prints with their close relationship with his paintings, impressed his contemporaries.

He had a talent for composition, sensitivity, and interventions in the negatives (painting and retouching).

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