Theme/Style – Tonalism, Pictorialism, Abstraction
Media – Photography, filmmaking, painting, sculpture
Artistic Focus – With other members of the Photo-Secessionist movement, Francis Bruguière sought to legitimize photography as a fine art medium. His Tonalist/Pictorialist photographs of San Francisco’s streets and buildings often used soft focus and subtle variations in tone to invoke the Impressionist painters; and his dreamlike depictions of the city’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition and the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego looked beneath their festive surfaces to reveal them as places of fantasy and mystery. Bruguière was also a pioneer in experimental photography and abstract filmmaking, using techniques such as shaped or cut-paper designs to create patterns of light and shadow.
Career Highlights –
- Francis Joseph Bruguière was born into a wealthy and prominent banking family in San Francisco, California in 1879. His maternal grandfather was Peder Sather, a generous donor to the University of California, and his brother was painter and physician Peder Sather Bruguière.
- In 1901 Bruguière married actress Lila Convere and pursued an art career, studying painting in Europe; but on his return to the U.S. he met Alfred Stieglitz in New York and decided to take up photography. He studied with Frank Eugene, and Stieglitz included several of Bruguière’s photographs in the groundbreaking 1910 Photo-Secessionist International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography at the Albright (now Albright-Knox) Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY.
- Back in San Francisco, Bruguière set up a studio and began photographing the city and its people. He had a solo show of his photographs at Vickery, Atkins & Torrey galleries in 1912, and was included in a group show at the city’s California Club that same year.
- In 1915 Bruguière produced one of his most famous bodies of work: his photography of the buildings and grounds of San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) and San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition (PCE).
- To commemorate the PPIE, Bruguière and George Sterling collaborated to create The Evanescent City (1915), comprising a poem by Sterling and nine of Bruguière’s photographs. The piece was first printed in Sunset magazine and was also published in book form.
- A book of Bruguière’s Pictorialist photographs called San Francisco was published in 1918, and contained 26 images of the city, including Chinatown and Telegraph Hill.
- Around 1918 Bruguière moved to New York City, where he established a studio and worked as a photographer for Vanity Fair, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as the city’s Theatre Guild.
- Bruguière’s longstanding experimentation with new techniques and light processes culminated in his famous series of cut-paper photographic abstractions and a one-man show at the Art Center of New York in 1927.
- Also around 1927, Bruguière moved to London, where he designed stage sets and photographic murals, and in 1929-1930 he co-created the first British abstract film, Light Rhythms, with Oswell Blakeston.
- In 1936 Bruguière was included in the landmark exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and his photograph Abstraction was illustrated with work by Juan Gris and Raymond Duchamp-Villon in a review of the show in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
- Around 1937 Bruguière abandoned photography to concentrate on painting and sculpture, which he pursued until his death in London in 1945.
- In 2015-2016 the exhibition Dream City: The 1915 Panama-California Exposition took place at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, highlighting Bruguière’s photographs of the PCE. Other posthumous solo shows for Bruguière took place at the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY (Quest for Light, 1959); Witkin Gallery, New York (1977); and in California at the San Francisco Museum of Art (with Robert Frank) (1967), the de Young Museum (1968), Friends of Photography in Carmel and a major Bruguière retrospective at the Oakland Museum (1978). A monograph, Bruguière: His Photographs and Life, by James Enyeart was published in 1977.
Selection of Works by this Artist
Bibliographic references are available upon request.