Léonard Misonne was born in Gilly, Belgium on July 1, 1870 near Charleroi. He was the son of Belgium industrialist and lawyer Louis Misonne and Adele Pimez.
Misonne studied Greek and humanities at the Jesuit College in Charleroi. He studied to become a mining engineer at the University of Louvain. In 1890 he made his first photographs. He soon became a part of the Louvain circle of photography, which was to influence him during the rest of his life.
In 1895 he received his degree in mining engineering, but he decided not to pursue his profession. Instead he took up photography, painting and the piano. He returned to Gilly where he spent the rest of his life. There he administered the family fortune.
In 1896 he joined the Association Belge de Photographie and then exhibited at a show organized by this group--the first of many exhibitions that he participated in. He then decided to devote himself entirely to photography.
From 1896 to 1915, Misonne utilized a carbon process much like Fresson. He traveled to Germany, Switzerland and France. He visited the museums in Paris, where he saw and admired the work of Gustave Dore and Corot. He also visited London.
He traveled by bicycle all over Belgium during this time and actually won many bike races. His photographs from this period are often considered his best work, and he reprinted many of these images during the rest of his life. He said, "The Sky is the key to the Landscape." He became known as one of the premier pictorialists, but he never made the transition that some pictorialists made to Modernism.
He said, " Light glorifies everything. It transforms and ennobles the most commonplace and ordinary subjects."
In 1897 he invented the "Photo-Dessin" process.
Throughout 1903-07 his images were used in Photo Club de Paris magazine. Later his photographs were used from 1931-1947 in the important American Annual of Photography.
In 1906 he married Valentine Labin, who he had eight children with. He also took his last major tour to Switzerland and Italy. But he suffered from asthma and became house bound for much of his life.
In 1912, Misonne became a member of the Societe Francaise de Photographie.
From 1915 to 1935 he used the oil process, which he learned from Constant Emile Puyo. From 1935-43 he used his own process called the mediobromine or mediobrome process.
He became seriously ill in 1940 and finally he died September 14, 1943 in his beloved city of Gilly, Belgium.
His pictorialist work is highly sought after by collectors and curators.
His work is the collections of hundreds of museums, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the George Eastman House, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the Amon Carter Museum, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the Rijksmuseum, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, the Norsk Museum for Fotografi, the National Museum of American History, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Sydney Art Gallery of New South Wales, just to mention a few.
His biography is in the George Eastman House and Auer & Auer databases. Several books have been written on his work. A major retrospective was on exhibit at the Musee de la Photographie (Charleroi, Belgium) and a catalogue was published for the show.