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Guide to the Victor Prevost Photograph Collection
1853-ca. 1943
  PR 56

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Emily Wolff, Sandra Markham, and Jenny Gotwals

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 10, 2019
Description is in English.

Biographical Note

Victor Prevost was born in La Rochelle, France in 1802. As a young man, he studied art with Paul Delaroche in Paris. Around 1847, Prevost traveled to California, where he made paintings and drawings of the landscape, creating some of the earliest surviving images of pre-gold rush San Francisco. He moved to New York City in 1850 and continued to make his living as an artist. During this period he began to experiment with photography.

On a visit to France in 1853, Prevost learned Gustave Le Gray's calotype process. Based on the calotype process developed by William Henry Fox Talbot, Le Gray's method employed sensitized waxed paper to make photographic negatives. In France, Prevost produced landscape photos of the Forest of Compiegne, views of the castle of Pierrefonds, and architectural studies of the town of Soissons that demonstrate his mastery of the technique as well as his fine artistic sensibility.

When he returned to New York, Prevost opened a photography studio at 627 Broadway, between Houston and Bleecker Streets, with P. C. Duchochois as his partner. He was one of the few photographers in the United States producing calotypes commercially. Prevost entered his images at the New York Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1853 and was awarded several honorable mentions but lost the prize to John Adams Whipple, who made images using what he called the cystalotype process, collodion on glass. In 1854, several of Prevost's images appeared in Photographic and Fine Art Journal. The accompanying article praised the images and hinted that Prevost had plans to publish them as a book documenting New York City. Although the book never materialized, his methodical recording of particular areas of the city as well as his signing and numbering of his negatives suggest that he did have the intention to produce one.

Unfortunately, Prevost was unable to compete with the successful studios that dominated New York's photographic market during this era and closed his business in 1855. He took a job working for another calotype studio but held it only briefly. In 1857, he turned to teaching art and physics at a private institute for girls, operated by his wife's aunt. He did, however, continue to photograph, as evidenced by surviving images from the 1860s and 70s. Prevost went on to become the principal at Fort Washington French Institute and later at the Tivoli-on-Hudson Institute where he remained until his death in 1881.