Front / Recto

  • Title Untitled
  • Negative Date 1936
  • Print Date 1936–55
  • Medium Gelatin silver print
  • Dimensions Image 11 1/2 × 9 1/4" (29.2 × 23.5 cm)
    Mount 15 3/4 × 13 3/8" (40 × 34 cm)
  • Place Taken Paris
  • Credit Line Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
  • MoMA Accession Number 1881.2001
  • Description

    The look and perhaps the sense of this large, exhibition-scale print lies in its unique concoction of darkroom experiments. Maurice Tabard solarized the paper with a flash of intense light before exposing it to the negative; we know this because the print displays no whites or deep blacks, a telltale sign of this highly variable technique of which he was the master. Solarization reverses the tone of forms and delineates the boundaries between forms oddly; this is why the profile looks decisively drawn yet seems to leak beyond its boundary. Tabard’s other manipulations appear to have been made by hand but remain otherwise mysterious: it is unclear what created the pits and scratches in the woman’s cheek, while the vague swipes of tone that sweep outward from her ear and forehead were probably caused by locally applied developer, dripped and brushed on. The woman in the image is transformed by these applications, some of them partially removed by abrasion, wiping, and retouching, as well as by the print’s overall flatness, random grit, and tonal aberrations. A slippery, silvery siren, she becomes a moon woman or perhaps a mermaid, a figment of dreams—just the sort of indeterminate but poetic metamorphosis the Surrealists adored.

    Although he started out as a more conventional portrait photographer in the United States, Tabard made his name internationally as a magician of solarization and other darkroom manipulations in Paris, where from 1928 to 1931 he was director of the photography lab at Deberny & Peignot, a company at the forefront of the printing, advertising, and magazine trades. His position there brought him into contact with many of the leading writers and visual artists of the day. His works were highly regarded and often reproduced in Vu, Jazz, Bifur, and other magazines, and his prints were widely exhibited: in Film und Foto in Stuttgart in 1929 and in the years after, as the exhibition toured; in the exhibitions Surrealism and Modern European Photography at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York, in 1932; in Photography, 1839–1937 at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1937; and at the Galerie de la Pléiade, Paris, a side venture of the Gallimard publishing house. In Photo-Illustration magazine Charles Santeuil praised the thirty solarized prints that Tabard showed at the Galerie de la Pléiade in 1936, but he found the name of the technique unfortunate for a style of rendering that is “a true rival to drawing in both contour and shading.” [1]

    —Lee Ann Daffner, Maria Morris Hambourg

    [1] Charles Santeuil, “Exposition Tabard,” Photo-Illustration, no. 17 (January 1936): 15.

Back / Verso

  • Mount Type Mount (original)
  • Marks and Inscriptions Signed in pencil on mount recto, bottom left: Tabard 36. Inscribed in pencil on mount verso, bottom center: PF 12_40/1936. Inscribed in pencil on mount verso, bottom left: [cut-off doodle].
  • Provenance The artist, Paris; to Christian Diener, Berlin [1]; purchased by Thomas Walther; purchased by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001.
    [1] MacGill/Walther 2000, p. 38; and Christian Diener, letter to Simon Bieling, June 4, 2005.


  • Retouch Detail
    Detail showing aqueous retouching, applied with a brush, and etching. The area of detail is 14 x 22 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
    Detail showing etching. The area of detail is 14 x 22 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
  • Surface Sheen Semireflective
  • Techniques Mount
    Retouching (additive)
    Retouching (reductive)
  • PTM
    Detail view of the recto of the artwork made using reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) software, which exaggerates subtle surface details and renders the features of the artwork plainly visible. Department of Conservation, MoMA
  • Micro-raking
    Raking-light close-up image, as shot. Area of detail is 6.7 x 6.7 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
    Raking-light close-up image, processed. Processing included removal of color, equalization of the histogram, and sharpening, all designed to enhance visual comparison. Department of Conservation, MoMA

Paper Material

  • Format Metric
  • UV Fluorescence Recto negative
    Verso no data
  • Fiber Analysis No fiber data available
  • Material Techniques Developing-out paper
  • XRF

    This work was determined to be a gelatin silver print via X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry.

    The following elements have been positively identified in the work, through XRF readings taken from its recto and verso (or from the mount, where the verso was not accessible):

    • Recto: P, S, Ca, Zn, Sr, Ag, Ba, Pb
    • Mount: Mg, Al, Si, S, K, Fe, Zn, Sr, Ba, Pb

    The graphs below show XRF spectra for three areas on the print: two of the recto—from areas of maximum and minimum image density (Dmax and Dmin)—and one of the verso or mount. The background spectrum represents the contribution of the XRF instrument itself. The first graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the lower energy range (0 to 8 keV). The second graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the higher energy range (8 to 40 keV).

    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Mg, Al, Si, P, S, K, Ca, Ag, Ba
    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Fe, Zn, Sr, Ag, Pb

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