Charles Nègre (French, 1820-1880)
The children of actress Rachel with a young girl and dog, Auteuil, probably autumn 1853
Albumen print from a collodion negative
9.7 cm tondo on 12.4 x 17.1 cm paper
The most famous actress in mid-century France was Élisabeth Rachel Félix (1821–1858), known solely by the name Rachel. Her talents on stage were matched by her libertinism off it. In autumn 1853, she hired Nègre to take her portrait. He took several photographs of Rachel as well as her close family. This photograph—an untrimmed albumen print, along with a salt print with the skillful addition of color—portray the sons of Rachel accompanied by an unidentified young girl and dog on the grounds of an Auteuil mansion in Paris. Nine-year-old Alexandre is standing with his five-year-old half-brother Gabriel next to him. Nègre made the portrait using a modified combination lens that he paired with the technique of wet collodion on glass. In the negative, it seems he was dissatisfied with the lack of definition around the head of Alexandre, which he retouched and traced over, the brushstrokes of which are visible in the rough-hewn and charming untrimmed print.
A similarly untrimmed albumen print of this image is in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay.