Charles Henry Victor Prevost was born in the coastal village of La Rochelle, France in 1820. While attending the École des Beaux Arts, he met fellow painting student Gustave Le Gray, who would later become France's most important nineteenth-century photographer. After serving an apprenticeship in Paris with historical painter Paul Delaroche, Mr. Prevost found employment as a lithographer, with several of his lithographs featured during the Paris Salon exhibitions of 1845 and 1846.
Although he could have enjoyed a very successful career as a Paris lithographer, the ambitious young Frenchman set his sights on the other side of the Atlantic. Mr. Prevost sailed to New York City, where he quickly found employment as a lithographer with several well-known firms, including Goupil, Vibert & Co. and Napoleon Sarony's Sarony & Major. By 1849, he had married Louise Berault, and soon after they started a family. Their firstborn son, Emmanuel Emile, was born the following year, and son Gaston arrived in 1853. While he may have been first introduced to the daguerreotype while in Mr. Sarony's employ, it is believed that it was as a member of a studio artists' cooperative that a passing interest in the medium turned into a lifelong passion for photography. The close proximity to Broadway and several nearby portrait galleries revealed the numerous career opportunities available for a talented daguerreotypist.
After a few years of learning the trade, Mr. Prevost returned to Paris, where his old school chum Gustave Le Gray taught him the new technique he had developed, in which he waxed paper negatives before their placement into a sensitizing bath of silver nitrate, allowing the negatives to be preserved for at least a week prior to developing and printing. While there, Mr. Prevost took a series of French landscape photographs, which were later used to illustrate Alexandre Dumas's sequel to The Three Musketeers, entitled Twenty Years After. In late 1853, he returned to New York City, where he opened his own photographic gallery at 43 John Street. Shortly, thereafter, he teamed with another Frenchman, Pierre Comfort (P. C.) Duchochois, and opened another studio at 624 Broadway.
Mr. Prevost preferred to concentrate his efforts on architectural photography, photographing country estates, churches, and prominent commercial structures. His works were awarded several medals at the Crystal Palace's New York Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in 1854. That same year, he was invited to West Point to photograph the solar eclipse, making an impressive 19 wet-plate exposures which could quickly be transferred onto waxed negatives. Despite their award-winning partnership, Prevost and Duchochois went their separate ways in 1855, and Mr. Prevost began working for Charles DeForest Fredericks, who was transitioning his business from daguerreotypes to paper photographic prints.
However, after two years with Mr. Fredericks, Mr. Prevost retired from the photography business, and joined his wife as a faculty member of Madame Chegaray's Institute for Young Ladies (and later taught at the Fort Washington French Institute and at Tivoli-on-Hudson). He still occasionally accepted photo assignments that interested him, such as the construction of Central Park, and was commissioned by the American Museum of Natural History to photograph their newly renovated building exterior. Charles Prevost died in New York City in April of 1881, and several of his waxed paper negatives and existing albumen prints can be found at numerous sites, including the George Eastman House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
1901 Anthony's Photographic Bulletin, Vol. XXXII (New York: E. & H. T. Anthony & Co.), p. 291.
2008 Creating Central Park by Morrison H. Heckscher (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art), p. 42.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 1170-1171.
2014 From the Second Empire to the Empire City: Victor Prevost's Architectural Views, 1854-1856 by Virginia Fister (URL: http://visualizingnyc.org/essays/from-the-second-empire-to-the-empire-city-victor-prevosts-architectural-views-1854-1856).
1976 Old New York in Early Photographs by Mary Black (New York: Dover Publications, Inc.), p. 153.
2017 Rocky Hillside (URL: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/268659).
2008 Victor Prevost: Early Photographs of New York (URL: http://www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/victor-prevost-early-photographs-new-york).
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