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August 26, 2021

Photograph of a Woman Seen From the Back, ca. 1862

Woman Seen From the Back is an 1860s photograph by 19th-century French photographer, Vicomte Onesipe Aguado de las Marismas (1830–1893). It is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and was purchased by the Museum in 2005 as part of the Gilman Photographs Collection.

Onesipe Aguado was the youngest of three brothers born to the wealthy banker Alexandre Aguado. His oldest brother Olympe Aquado were amateur enthusiasts who split their time between socialite activities, a close family life, and photography. Upon their father’s death in 1842, Onesipe and Olympe inherited a considerable fortune that included vacation homes.

Onesipe and Olympe were students of Gustave Le Gray, and were active early members of the Societe Francaise de Photographie. They were early makers of photographic enlargements and known for their experimentations with photographic processes—producing daguerreotypes, cartes-des-visites, techniques with negative paper for landscapes and collodion on glass for portraits. They were also known for the diversity of their subjects—deserted interiors, close studies of trees as well as sweeping pastorals, portraits, reproductions of works of arts and snapshots of sailboats.

At once a portrait, a fashion plate, and a jest, this fascinating image expresses Aguado’s whimsical mood, and is probably an extension of his work on foreshortening. It is strangely devoid of depth, as if the sitter were a two-dimensional cutout, a mere silhouette. The figure brings to mind the compositions of such painters as Caspar David Friedrich and René Magritte, both of whom made haunting use of figures seen from the back.

The portrait, Woman Seen From the Back, a salted paper print from glass negative, suggests the wit and playfulness of its photographer. The image is devoid of depth, possibly an extension of the artists’ work on foreshortening, making the sitter appear two dimensional and merely a silhouette.

Olympe Aguado, self portrait with his brother Onésipe (sitting, left), 1853.


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