Born in Lille, France in 1872, Pierre Dubreuil hailed from a successful industrial (wallpaper) family. At age 16, he he entered Collège Saint-Joseph de Lille, which was where he became interested in photography. With half-plate camera in hand, the teen photographed everything around him. His family's great wealth allowed him to pursue his photographic passion without worrying about earning a livelihood. After serving in the 6th Dragoon French cavalry regiment (Saint-Omer), Mr. Dubreuil began working as an assistant to equine photographer Louis-Jean Delton. By the tender age of 19, he was a member of the Lille Photographic Society, and it was through this association that he met fellow photographer Robert Pauli, from whom he learned carbon and platinum printing processes.
Opening his own studio at 27 Rue d'Angleterre, Mr. Dubreuil's photographs first received industry attention in 1896, when his "Sombre Clarté" ("Dark Clarity") work was exhibited in Brussels, Belgium. His first international successes were an exhibition of a quintet of prints at the Photo-Club de Paris, which surprised everyone by receiving greater critical praise than the works of French Pictorialist Robert Demachy. Mr. Dubreuil was one of the first turn-of-the-century photographers who used photography as an instrument of socioeconomic commentary. He captured machines in extreme close-ups while often depicting people in miniscule elements, suggesting that beauty can be found in objects and that rapid urban industrialization and humanity can strike a harmonious balance. With a painter's understanding of light, shadow and color as well as cropping and contrast manipulation for dramatic impact, his oil-pigment prints convey an Impressionist perspective.
By the early twentieth century, Mr. Dubreuil had perfected a slow development technique that enabled him to soften the effects of contrasting subjects. One of his most effective uses of soft-focus (courtesy of the Dallmeyer-Bergheim telephoto lens) was the 1908 work, "Elephantaisie," which enabled the photographer to dramatically reduce the space between the elephant sculpture and the Eiffel Tower. He was an active member of London's Linked Ringed Brotherhood, along with the likes of Gertrude Kasebier, Edward Steichen, and Alfred Stieglitz. From 1904 until 1930, Mr. Dubreuil championed the bromoil method, which enabled him to further control print contrast. While in Paris, he became acquainted with Cubism and Futurism, which influenced several of his Modernist images, predating those of contemporaries Paul Strand and Alvin Langdon Coburn. He was not afraid to think outside the box, and was constantly incorporating abstract concepts into his photography.
World War I had a profound effect upon Mr. Dubreuil's life and career, as he entered French military service, and afterward lost his wife and daughter to a postwar flu epidemic in 1918. During the 1920s, he left Lille for Brussels, where he remarried and immersed himself in surrealist and de Stijl photography, producing fantasy and dream-like imagery. Mr. Dubreuil remained active until the late 1930s, when his health began to fail. Shortly before the Second World War, he sold all of his negatives and several prints to Gevaert, which resulted in their destruction during wartime bombings of the Belgian factory. Shortly after the death of his wife, Pierre Dubreuil died virtually forgotten and penniless in Grenoble, France on January 9, 1944. However, in the late 1970s, San Diego collector Tom Jacobson rediscovered Mr. Dubreuil’s works, and several exhibitions throughout the 1980s reintroduced his compelling prints to appreciative audiences. In 2005, one of his rare matte prints sold at Sotheby's in New York for $132,000, further proof that the Modernist works of Pierre Dubreuil, "the Alfred Stieglitz of Europe," are as relevant today as they were a century ago.
2009 Elephantaisie, 1908 (URL: http://www.brianappelart.com/art_writing_Fall_2009_photography_auctions_new_york.htm).
2006 Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography by Lynne Warren (New York: Routledge), p. 1237.
1902 The International Studio, Vol. XV (New York: Offices of The International Studio), pp. lii and 300.
1991 New York Magazine, Vol. XXIV (New York: K-III Magazine Corporation), p. 68.
2017 Pierre Dubreuil (URL: https://howlingpixel.com/wiki/Pierre_Dubreuil).
1902 The Photographic Times, Vol. XXXV (New York: Anthony and Scovill Company), p. 269.
1901 The Process Engraver's Monthly, Vol. VIII (London: Dawbarn & Ward, Ltd.), p. 382.
1988 Rediscovery of Pierre Dubreuil by Suzanne Muchnic (URL: http://articles.latimes.com/1988-10-11/entertainment/ca-3654_1_pierre-dubreuil).
2017 Seizing the Light: A Social & Aesthetic History of Photography by Robert Hirsch (New York: Routledge), p. 201.
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