French, 1814–1876 and 1826–1900
Ascent of Mont Blanc, 1860
9 x 15 in. (22.8 x 38.1 cm)
George Eastman Museum, Rochester, New York
The Bisson Frères (Bisson brothers) were among the first photographers to document glaciers and the growing popularity of mountaineering as high adventure. Even royalty embraced mountain climbing fever. In 1860, Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie made a symbolic ascent of Mont Blanc to commemorate France’s reunification with Savoy.
In this view, Bisson Brothers captured the dramatic route across a dangerous crevasse undertaken by the climbing party of the royal couple. Accompanied by 60 guides, Napoleon and Eugenie hiked only as far as Montenvers, while the Bisson brothers continued their journey with a smaller group in the hope of summiting the mountain.
Although they failed to reach the top, the photographers returned with large glass-plate negatives, which were published in 1860. These photographs proved so popular that the brothers organized a second trek the following summer. Auguste reached the summit, shooting three photographs from the peak before an onslaught of inclement weather.
In 1863, Bisson brothers presented these images to the Academy of Sciences in Paris. Such photographs appealed to both scientists and the public, who admired their accurate depiction of alpine landscape.