Otto Wegener was born in the southern Swedish town of Helsingborgs in 1849. The Swedish photographer Hanna Forthmeijer (1827-1914) established the city’s first permanent studio in Otto’s parents’ home in the mid-1860s. (Cf. a local advertisement for this first studio of Helsingborgs published in 1867, the same year the young man left for Paris reproduced in Helsingborgs stadslexikon).
Because he had joined the Commune under the Garde Nationale uniform, Otto went in exile to London where his three sons were born]. He came back after 1875.
Nothing is known about his introduction to photography; all we know is that he opened his magnificient studio at the fashionable address 3, Place de la Madeleine in 1883, successfully competing with Nadar and Reutlinger for the elite audience.
Marcel Proust frequented Otto’s studio.
He also brought his favourite ladies from the nobility to Otto’s studio. Celebrated as the supreme beauty of her day, Countess Elisabeth Greffulhe (1860-1952) was the triumph of Parisian society when Marcel Proust made her acquaintance in 1892.
Proust pursued her with requests for a photograph, which she staunchly refused. Nonetheless, the countess would inspire Proust’s fiction, becoming a prototype for the glamorous Duchesse de Guermantes in A la recherche du temps perd (1913-27).
Wegener had then already simplified his name to OTTO, a signature that shined in gold above the sixth floor on the building. He maintained contacts with the Swedish colony of artists and the writer August Strindberg dined in his house in 1894. The writers Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Victoria Benedictsson as well as the painter Albert Edelfelt are among the Scandinavians who had their photographs taken by Otto.
Otto also instructed Sweden’s Prince Eugen in handling a dry plate camera in 1887.
The prominent Swedish photographer John Hertzberg was his assistant in the years1897–98. In a supplement to the Danish publisher Henrik Cavling’s book on Paris, the Swedish journalist Erik Sjöstedt described Otto as the leading photographer in the capital… Only one photographer made more money than Otto, and still did not have his aristocratic customers, nor his artistic merits.
Visitors lined up outside his gallery on Rue Royale – where one of his assistants, Edward Steichen, was given an exhibition. Otto exhibited in the First International Exhibition of photography in Paris 1892 and even represented France in the Paris World Exhibition 1900 and in Dresden 1908 and Leipzig 1914.
That year, 1914, the leading Swedish pictorialist Henry B. Goodwin visited him and wrote a piece in a monthly photo journal describing his four storey combination of studios, parlours, dark-rooms and living quarters, all filled with antiques, paintings and the art noveau furniture he loved to design. They conversed in English.
Wegener had studied the new reproduction methods as oil transfers and gum prints with Demachy and Puyo, and for a brief period in 1906, he hired Edward Steichen to instruct him in different techniques [and especially in the Steichen prints]. At the time, Steichen was struggling financially to support his wife and young daughter while pursuing his own work. Bemused that he was instructing one of the most successful photographers in Paris, Steichen wrote to Alfred Stieglitz, “Well—I’ve taken a job as a day laborer. I am working for Otto!!!” (Steichen: The Master Prints, p. 68). Regardless, Steichen appreciated the handsome wage Otto paid—$20 a day.
Otto Wegener had three sons, the younger son, Maurice-Otto, or Otto jr was working with him as a photographer and was killed in 1917 on the French side in World War One. Otto never really recovered from the loss. He died, a broken man, in 1924.
Despite his success, he is usually overlooked in major works on the history of photography, and even if French archives have a lot of his commercial photographs, cartes de visite, (there are 1000 pictures and 600 negatives only in the Bibliothèque National! ), his exibition prints have not yet surfaced.”
Otto had studied Pictorial print processes with Robert Demachy and Constant Puyo. —and clearly Otto absorbed the younger photographer’s lessons: the gilt borders around the print offered here perhaps show Steichen’s influence, as does Otto’s evocative and assured handling of the gum-bichromate technique.” (italic correspond to Pär Rittsel’s article, online at: http://rittsel.weebly.com/otto-wegener.html).
About this auction :
The exhibition prints had not surfaced during a hundred years, as they were sleeping in a French provincial attic. Otto’s younger son, Arnold Wegener (1871-1948), applied to French citizenship in 1893, and during his military service, he became friends with a classmate, also from the place de la Madeleine neighbourhood, son of the elegant florist of rue Tronchet. Émile would soon transform the family business from flowers to electric supplies. Arnold and his friend were interested by the new industry of cinema and they tried to developp some patent of colour movie, “Splendicolor”. Unfortunately, Arnold and probably Emile as well, went bankrupt, losing all the capital after only a few months. Family records suggest that Arnold, who had no children, kept links with his friend, and the artist’s studio collection was saved by his daughter. The catalogue, describing 55 lots, is still in progress and should be ready for the mid-September. Inquiries about the auction : email@example.com