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Biography of Alexandre Guilbert

Alexandre Guilbert (12 August 1880 - 31 August 1912) was an American/French photographer and painter. His career in Paris spanned only thirteen years, and most of his work has been lost or destroyed. Like his contemporary Eugene Atget, Guilbert was known during his lifetime only among a select circle, and he died in relative obscurity. Even today, he remains largely overlooked and the subject of much mythology.

Personal Life

Born Alexander Gilbert to French parents who had fled to New York City during the Paris Commune in 1871, he grew up in a milieu of expatriates and other displaced persons. His formal schooling was incomplete. He began work at age fourteen as a delivery boy. He developed an aptitude for drawing, and gained an interest in photography through his father. As a stowaway, he returned to France in 1900, but never overcame feelings of rejection and misunderstanding.

In 1906 he met Paulette Douglas, an eighteen-year-old American girl on holiday. She lived seven years with him as his common-law wife. Guilbert publicly acknowledged this relationship, while at the same time never hiding numerous affairs with models, prostitutes, and other women, among whom most notable was Claudie de Rochambeau.


Beginning in 1902, Guilbert studied the techniques of painting from Thierry Verchard, an unstable painter of mundane talents. By the following year, Guilbert's work was being hailed by the likes of Pablo Picasso, and proposed as the basis for a new school of art. Ever the outcast, Guilbert rejected the reputation and role in any artistic movement, taking steps to lock away or destroy all his paintings, and he never painted again. He did, however, continue to use many of the techniques he had learned to produce tinted and other manipulated prints of his photographs. Among his favorite devices were a simple black box camera that used glass plates, and later a fifty-exposure flexible-film camera.

The art dealer Jacques Mairet struck a deal with Guilbert in 1907, by which he acquired all of Guilbert's paintings and photographs. Few of the photographs sold, and not for much money, while Guilbert was alive. Just prior to his untimely death in 1912, the entire collection was sold to Alfred Stieglitz, who intended to display the works in his Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession in New York City. Even before Guilbert's paintings and photographs could be catalogued and recorded, all were lost to fire.

Today, several of Guilbert's photographs are known to be held in private collections. In 1999, X-ray analysis and infrared reflectography revealed one of his earliest paintings, Coup de Foudre, painted over by a Verchard landscape that was on loan at the Louvre. As of this writing it remains Guilbert’s only known painting in existence.

Catalog of Works

The Grand and Famous, 1900
Cursed, 1902
Thunderbolt, 1903
Tower of Glory, 1905
Bird in the Cage, 1906
Androgynous, 1907
A Bad Odor, 1908
Being Sick to Death, 1909
Saints and Sinners, 1911
Fellatrice on the Rise, 1911
Untamed Orgasm, 1912
Gaze a Prayer, 1912
Reverence, 1912
Bower of Bliss, 1912