Gabriel Loppé’s paintings favoured the traditional approach to mountain landscape but when he began his career, he was already an innovator. In fact, nineteenth century mountainscape painting was chiefly the preserve of the Swiss School, whose preferred medium was engraving which explains the abundance of bound albums representing the landscapes of Switzerland and Savoy.
The mountains shown were often views of peaks or panoramas taken from medium-high viewpoints.
The notable practitioners of the time in landscape painting were Jean-Antoine Linck, Pierre-Louis de la Rive in the first half of the nineteenth century and Loppé’s earlier contemporaries his master Francois Diday and his pupil Alexandre Calame in Geneva.
The ‘Romantic’ vision of a ‘sublime’ mountain came to the fore, turning away from
the “awful mountains” which was the common perception held at the turn of the nineteenth century. Paintings, engravings and literature contributed to this changing image of the mountain, as well as the first mountaineers.
Diday was part of the Romantic movement in the way he represented his subject and his pupil Alexandre Calame went one further in boldly venturing into the high mountains where the sublime, magical aspect could be encountered.
What sets Loppé apart is that he could paint at high altitude, where excelled in the way he depicted glaciers and snow. As one of the pioneers in painting ‘sur le motif’, he took all his equipment with him during his trips into the mountains. He never hesitated to spend several days up at altitude, studying how to better render the landscape’s light, the feeling of cold and atmosphere at different times of the day.
Gabriel Loppé’s paintings belong to the Realist school of painting. He spent days on end on the glaciers and by crevasses, immortalizing them with his pochades (small format oil paintings of made in one shot).
Whilst winter mountaineering was not yet commonplace, he chose to frequent the Alpine valleys still deep in snow. At that time of year, nature had taken over, the feeling of solitude reigned, these were rarified moments.
Thanks to his studies and pochades made on the spot, back in his studio, Loppé produced an impressive number of canvases in all different formats, even monumental ones, as records of his glacier tours, including tiny figures to scale in them set against the gaping crevasses, glacial lakes or snowbound valleys.
Loppé began taking photographs rather late on in his career, in the 1880s. It is a medium with which he was quite familiar as he had always been surrounded by friends who were amateur and/or even professional photographers.
In the 1880s, he took great pleasure in photographing his grandchildren, clearly influenced by the English pictorialist movement, as evinced by Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs.
He also took magnificent panoramic photographs from the various summits he climbed as well as Alpine landscapes in a wider sense, not to mention all the city views such as Geneva, Paris, Marseille, London and Liverpool. He often photographed these urban scenes as nocturnes – at night time.
From the balcony of his flat on the Avenue du Trocadéro in Paris (today the Avenue du Président Wilson), he immortalized the structure of the Eiffel Tower.
The famous photograph he took of the tower as it was struck by three bolts of lightning one evening in June 1902, with a pause of 22 minutes, earned him international recognition amongst the photographic community, a correspondence with the engineer Gustave Eiffel and admission to the Astronomical Society of France.
Loppé was also a member of the London Camera Club which included many many devotees of the Pictorialist movement: a trend which was started by some amateur photographers keen to elevate photography as an Art.
Indeed, with new processes emerging all time, the technical evolution of photography made the craft simpler and less cumbersome which allowed more people to take it up.
Some amateurs from the bourgeoisie sought to develop an aesthetic specific to this new art as a reaction to the ever-changing techniques. Their idea was to enhance the sensitivity of the artist-photographer at the same time as proposing an alternative vision of reality.
Some of his photographs, now kept in the Musée d’Orsay, show the important role he played in the context of this new art form and have featured in an exhibition.
In the foreground, the roofs of “la manutention militaire”, a military food depot. The building was destroyed in 1936 to make way for the Palais de Tokyo.
Photographers’ interest in the Eiffel Tower did not end with the completion of the building. From the balcony of Gabriel Loppé’s flat on Avenue du Trocadéro (now Avenue du Président Wilson), the monument was a favourite motif, whether illuminated with garlands or, as here, revealed by the lightning of a stormy sky.
And on 15 June 1905, Gabriel Loppé wrote to Gustave Eiffel:
“I don’t have any proofs, for the moment, of the shot of the lightning tower. After having lost many negatives because of the lack of care taken by the professionals to whom I gave them to make prints, I decided to do all the very tedious operations myself in order to have some presents to give to my friends. I am therefore going to prepare a little fixative to prepare the two proofs that your correspondents ask you to send them. Up to now I have only made a very small number which I have given to 5 or 6 of my friends and also to some people whom I do not have the honour of knowing but for whom I have the greatest consideration.
For you, Sir, who have created the most original, most modern monument, the only one that gives me the sensation of the immensity, the variety, the finesse and the brilliance of the Parisian sky, of this atmosphere that the fumes of the factories have not been able to dirty and which envelops the Parisian landscape with such an artistic harmony and charm.”