Jules Gervais-Courtellemont

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The lonely cross and charred tree were used by Courtellemont for dramatic effect.

Jules Gervais-Courtellemont (1863–1931) was a French photographer who was famous for taking color autochromes during World War I. He was born in the province of Seine-et-Marne, near Paris, but grew up in Algeria, where he developed a passion for the pre-colonial Orient and devoted most of his professional career in search of the exotic. In 1894 he converted to Islam prior to making a pilgrimage to Mecca.[1] Images collected in Turkey, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, Spain, India, Morocco and China formed the basis for his popular illustrated lectures, which he illustrated with lantern slides. With the outbreak of World War I, Courtellemont returned to his home province to record the war. After the war, Courtellemont began working for an American publication. He eventually became a photographer for National Geographic. In 1911, Courtellemont opened the "Palais de l'autochromie" in Paris, which comprised an exhibition hall, studio, laboratory, and lecture hall with a seating capacity of 250. It was in this hall that Courtellemont would project his autochromes both of the Orient and, after 1914, of the war, particularly the Marne battlefields. These lectures proved to be so popular that Courtellemont issued a twelve-part series later bound in book form called The Battle of Marne and later a four-part series entitled The Battle of Verdun. These are the first books ever published in color on war.[1] Between 1923 and 1925 he wrote a three-volume work entitled La Civilisation – Histoire sociale de l'humanité, illustrated with his photographs. He was a lifelong friend of the novelist, Orientalist and photographer Pierre Loti. While over 5,500 Gervais-Courtellemont autochromes survive in various institutional collections, his work in private hands is quite rare and sought after. Courtellemon died in 1931. His German counterpart is Hans Hildenbrand.


Courtellemont's work displays a tight sense of composition, an acute awareness of the interplay of light on color, and a haunting familiarity of symbolism. Landscapes are carefully composed, with due attention to lighting and placement within the picture frame. He used symbols such as the lonely cross and the charred tree for dramatic effect.



  1. ^ a b De Pastre, B., and Devos, E. (eds.), Les couleurs du voyage. L'oeuvre photographique de Jules Gervais-Courtellemont (2002)

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