(FRENCH, 1837 - 1900)
Eugène Cuvelier was born in Arras in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais. His father, Adalbert Cuvelier (1812-1871), was a merchant, amateur painter, established photographer, and one of the co-inventors of the cliché-verre technique. He was friends with Eugène Delacroix and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, the leading painter of the Barbizon school of France in the mid-nineteenth century. Eugène became friends with Corot around 1852-53 at home in Arras and visited Barbizon for the first time in 1856. When he married to Louise Ganne in 1859, they moved to Barbizon, placing Eugène in the midst of the many artists working in the 42,000 acres of the forest of Fontainebleau.
As well as the introduction to this artistic circle and a close friendship with Corot, Eugène owed his photographic skills to his father. Besides teaching him the practical aspects of photography, Aldabert taught his son that a successful photographer had to have more than just technical proficiency—to be a good photographer, he believed, one needed to be an artist and capture the sentiment of painting. Instead of carrying his paint box and easel, Eugène took his camera through the streets of Barbizon and Arras, and along the trees in the forest of Fontainebleau. With his carefully composed and richly printed photographs —printed on both albumen and salted papers—he achieved a painterly effect similar to the pre-Impressionist paintings of his friends with who he shared an aesthetic milieu. While Cuvelier was drawing inspiration from the work of Corot, Théodore Rousseau, Jean-François Millet, and others, these painters were in turn influenced by his photographs and vision.
Few prints were made from Eugène Cuvelier’s negatives, and were only exhibited at the Société Française de Photographie in 1864, 1869, and 1870. In 1924 a few of his works were donated to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and around 1950, others were collected by specialists in nineteenth-century French photography. The rediscovery of Eugène and Albadert Cuvelier’s works in the early 1980s raised the profile of these photographers and we now know 250 images by Eugène, probably more than half his oeuvre. In 1991, some of Eugène's works were exhibited in the Bibliothèque Nationale. Five years laters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art organized a traveling exhibition and publication, Eugene Cuvelier, Photographer in the Circle of Corot. ~ Renske van Leeuwen