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Francis Bruguiere
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
San Francisco
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Death Place: 
A photographer and painter, Francis Bruguière is remembered for his photographs depicting cut-paper abstract forms illuminated with projected light, which he called “light abstractions,” and his photographs of New York theater productions and performers. Born in San Francisco in 1879, Bruguière’s father was a wealthy banker. Educated at boarding schools in the East, Bruguière became interested in music and painting, further informed by his family’s travel to Europe. He married the actress Eliza Jones in 1901. He went to New York City in 1905, where he met Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) and Frank Eugene Smith (1865-1936, known as Frank Eugene). They interested Bruguière in artistic photography and he became a member of the Photo-Secession group organized by Stieglitz. Bruguière returned to San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and opened a photographic studio. He worked in the “pictorialist” style then favored by Stieglitz, with soft-focus images imitating painting. The 1910 International Photo-Secession Exhibition organized by Stieglitz at the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo included four of Bruguière’s photographs. Photographs he took on a trip to Europe show that he was experimenting with “straight” photography as well, featuring sharp focus. As early as 1912 Bruguière began experimenting with multiple-exposure photographs, which would later lead to abstractions. His commercial work included photographs of the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific International Exposition, nine of which were published in George Sterling’s book on the PPIE, The Evanescent City. Bruguière exhibited sixteen photographs in the Palace of Liberal Arts at the Exposition. In 1918 Bruguière published a book of his photographs of San Francisco and the photographer Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) worked in his studio. That year he moved with his family to New York City, seeking better prospects for his work. He soon became a successful commercial photographer for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair and the New York Theatre Guild. He also pursued experimental photography, influenced by the color light projections of Thomas Wilfred (1889-1968), photographed by Bruguière in 1921 and published in the January 1922 edition of Theatre Arts Magazine. Bruguière’s portrait photographs of theatrical performers often were unconventional, including one of Rosalinde Fuller (1892-1892), an English actress who became his model and mistress. Bruguière’s experiments included a series of surrealistic photographs featuring Fuller and the German dancer Sebastian Droste (1892-1927), intended as a storyboard for a film, which was never completed due to Droste’s untimely death. Bruguière contributed photographs to Norman Bel Geddes’s (1893-1958) 1924 edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Bruguière exhibited ninety-two photographs and ten paintings and watercolors at a critically-acclaimed solo exhibition in 1927 at the Art Center in New York City. The New York Times reviewer (April 3, 1927) wrote that the photos “give body to light, to give light solidity and weight and volume,” and that the “unrealized abstractions of his painted works become hard, three dimensional realities in his photographed works,” referring to his cut-out paper abstractions. Bruguière sold his New York studio and moved with Fuller to London in 1928, where he continued his experimental photography, which he exhibited in Berlin in 1928 at the Galerie Der Sturm and in Stuttgart at the 1929 “Film und Foto” show. His 1929 book with Lance Sieveking Beyond This Point, contained two dozen new photographs, which were also shown in an exhibition at London’s Warren Gallery. Bruguière created two works with the English writer Oswell Blakeston, an abstract film Light Rhythms in 1930 and a book Few Are Chosen: Studies in the Theatrical Lighting of Life’s Theatre in 1931. Bruguière’s photographs of English cathedrals, made with multiple exposures, were shown at the Warren Gallery in 1931. A trip to New York City the next year led to photographs of New York skyscrapers. The art director for the London advertising agency Lund, Humphries, Ltd., E. McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954), commissioned Bruguière to create avant-garde advertising posters and images in 1934. Then in 1937 he was commissioned to design the entrance to the British Pavilion and the Paris Exposition of that year. Bruguière stopped his photographic work in 1940, retired to Middleton Cheney, an English village north of Oxford, where he pursued painting, the philosophy of Carl Jung (1875-1961) and began writing an autobiography. In ill health, he returned to London and died there in May 8, 1945. (TNB 11/2014) Selected bibliography: Coke ,Van Deren and Diana C. du Pont. Photography. A Facet of Modernism, pp. 42-43 and 169. New York: Hudson Hills Press in association with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1986. Enyeart, James. Bruguière: His Photographs and his Life. New York, 1977.