The Daguerreian Society

Something abit longer today...

On this day (September 2) in the year 1887, the following article 
appeared in "The British Journal of Photography" (Vol.34, No.1426):
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Notes on Daguerre from a Manuscript written by M. Mentienne,
  ex Maire de Bry-sur-Marne, a Personal Friend of the Inventor
  of Photography, kindly communicated to Professor Stebbing by
  M. Glaise.

LOUIS JACQUES MAUDE DAGUERRE was born at Cormeilles en Parisis, Seine et 
Oise, the 18th of December, 1787. His father, a clerk in the Financial 
Department of the State, desiring to give his son an honourable 
profession, placed him, when young, under an architect. The youth 
manifested very early a decided taste for painting. His parents used 
their influence to divert him from this art, but in vain; his resolution 
to be a painter was immovable. His father, yielding at last to his great 
desire, apprenticed him to Degotis, decorator of the Opera. It was not 
long ere the young Daguerre made rapid progress in the art he had 
chosen. Important decorative work was confided to him, and he soon 
gained the reputation of being a talented artist.
   He received an order for a theatrical scene for the l'Ambigu-Comique, 
and made a complete revolution in this style of decoration. His 
paintings for that theatre are still cited as chefs-d'oeuvre--"The Dream 
in the Chapel of the Castle of Glenthorn," "De la foret de Senart," &c. 
He then executed, in collaboration with M. Ciceri, the decorations of 
the wonderful lamp for the great Opera; the magical effect of his 
rotating sun was remarkable. He assisted Pierre Prevost in the execution 
of his panoramas of Rome, Naples, London, &c. About this time he 
associated himself with the painter Bouton, for a moment a rival of 
Horace Vernet, in view of a panoramic establishment, in which light was 
made to act in order to give mobility to the effects as well as a charm 
to the coloration. This establishment was opened to the public on the 
11th of July, 1822. Here he offered to the astonished view of the 
spectators most admirably painted pictures, which, by the different 
effects of light, were made to pass from daylight to night, and from one 
scene to another. Renown spoke of a valley in Switzerland: Holyrood 
Chapel--this was so wonderful as regards painting, as well as scenic 
effect, that the Government decorated him with the Cross of the Legion 
d'Honneur (1824). "The Abbey of Roslin in a Fog"--which transformed 
itself into a snowstorm, "The Fire of Edinburgh," "The Deluge," "A View 
of Paris taken from Montmartre," "The Tomb of Napoleon at St. Helena," 
"The Mont Blanc," "The Black Forest," "The Midnight Mass at St. Etienne 
du Mont," "The Temple of Solomon"--this was his last production for his 
diorama (1839). This exhibition gained for its author universal renown; 
foreigners came from far in order to witness such a novel and wonderful 
   Master of his art, Daguerre produced by his perspective the most 
complete illusion--darkness to light, as well as all the atmospheric 
variation, were scrupulously represented. All at once the spectators 
were carried, immense pillars, and the coloured glass windows admirably 
portrayed--perspective had created space with striking reality. Then the 
admiring sightseers were shown a landscape lighted up by the silver 
beams of the moon, a castle hidden in the shade of a grove of trees, the 
heavens beautifully decorated with silver and golden tipped clouds. As a 
type of these changing panoramas must be cited the famous "Midnight 
Mass," seen at first by daylight, then during the night service. This 
change was obtained upon the same picture, and without removing it in 
the least.
   The 3rd of March, 1839, a fire devoured these chefs-d'oeuvre, and 
many others having a great artistic renown and value. This was, indeed, 
a misfortune. From that time up to the present day no establishment of 
the kind has been got up.
   Through this inauspicious event the fortune of Daguerre was very much 
curtailed. He continued, nevertheless, to occupy himself with the 
different effects to be obtained by light. Since 1834 he had been 
seeking to fix the image obtained in the camera obscura. This idea had 
been ridiculed by all those he had spoken to on that subject, with the 
exception of the eminent chemist, L. J. Dumas, "l'illustre savant de 
l'Academie Francaise," who gave him every encouragement to continue, and 
prognosticated his future success. In fact, as a recompense for the loss 
he had sustained by his fire, towards the end of April, 1839, he 
discovered the means to fix the reproduction of nature by means of 
   Henceforth an immense fortune appeared to lay beneath his grasp. 
Brilliant offers were made to him by foreigners for the purchase of his 
secret. England, which is never behindhand, offered him 10,000l. 
sterling and an annuity of 1000l. Prussia and Russia made him most 
brilliant offers. The United States offered to give him whatever his 
might demand. But Daguerre was resolved to give the honour of his 
discovery to his native country. The statesmen of France voted him 
unanimously a national reward in the form of a pension for life.
   By a deed executed before a notary, signed June 15, 1839, he took the 
solemn engagement to reveal the process he had discovered to obtain 
proofs by the aid of light, as well as to publish the means he employed 
to obtain such admirable effects in his dioramas. For this abandonment 
of his invention he was to receive from the State the humble pension of 
240l. per annum. The Government decorated him Officier de la Legion 
d'Honneur; the King of Prussia sent him the Order of Merit; the Emperor 
of Russia sent his a handsome present; the Universities of Edinburgh, 
Vienna, Munich, and New York sent him the diploma of honorary member of 
their respective colleges.
   Daguerre, desiring to rest a little from his labours, purchased a 
charming villa in the hamlet of Bry-sur-Marne. He occupied himself in 
embellishing his dwelling, and there he spent, with his worthy and 
respectable wife* and his niece (not having any children of their own) 
the happiest portion of his life. At the same time he did not neglect 
his taste for scientific subjects. Probably to please the priest he took 
it into his head to decorate the humble village church. Behind the high 
altar he prepared a canvas frame nearly five yards square, lighted from 
above; upon his he painted one of his very effective pictures--the only 
one left which can give the visitor an idea of what his Diorama was 
before its destruction.
   The decoration represents a Gothic edifice from the "jube" to the 
choir. This changes totally the aspect of the little village church, 
giving it the noble and majestic appearance of a cathedral. The visitor 
remains in wonder and admiration, looking at the numerous details of 
that holy scene. The curves of the archwork are so exquisitely rendered 
that the air appears to float among the pillars and the breath of prayer 
whispers among the arched buttresses. Spiders' webs can be seen hanging 
from the acanthus of the chapiters. In the foreground, Christ upon His 
cross appears about to descend. On the other side a wax taper is 
represented as being just extinguished, wafting its slightly curled and 
transparent smoke towards the skies, leaving the wick glowing red. Many 
other details could be mentioned which when touched are but optical 
illusions! By this last piece of work Daguerre appears to have left a 
pledge of his friendship and high esteem for the inhabitants of Bry-sur-
   During his retreat he occupied himself with his favourite studies. He 
became a member of the Free Society of Fine Arts, established in 1830, 
and assisted very regularly at their meetings. It appears he sought 
diligently to obtain instantaneous results for his photography. In the 
year 1844, at the meeting of the Free Society of Fine Arts held on 
January 30, he communicated his hopes that he had found a new chemical 
of which the sensitiveness was so instantaneous that he intended to make 
the portrait of a horse at full gallop. "The effect is so prompt," said 
he, "that I can only compare its rapidity to the velocity of the 
electric spark." Daguerre was very particular and difficult as to the 
perfection and easy application of his inventions. Perhaps he did not 
attain the success he desired as to rapidity, for at his death nothing 
could be found relating to this subject, which appears strange and 
   He endeavoured to bring designs in pastil to perfection by seeking a 
manner to fix the colour upon its support so as to do away with the 
protecting glass which was necessary at that time. It appears he met 
with many difficulties in order to preserve the velvety appearance so 
precious in that kind of drawing.
   At the moment when death knocked at his door he was occupied with a 
new process of monochrome painting on glass to be seen by reflection. 
The glass replaced the best varnish, and gave a highly glazed appearance 
to the finished picture. The specimens he left are painted with black 
paint, very vigorous indeed in tone. The half tones are obtained by 
means of the semi-transparency of the coating, this coating being more 
or less thick according to the taste of the artist. A coating of white 
to finish up gives depth of shadow. Several landscapes executed by this 
process were terminated, and one nearly finished was found upon the 
easel. As to the mode of production and preparation it can only be 
surmised, as nothing was left by him on the subject.
   Although busy in study and science, he was not against rendering 
service to the inhabitants of the village he had chosen for his retreat. 
Advice and help was not withheld from those who had chosen him to 
represent them on the Municipal Council.
   He received many visits from strangers and foreigners; photographers 
and artists came even from America, among the Messrs. Meades, who took 
the portrait of the master they came to honour with the intention of 
reproducing it on the other side of the ocean, to make the features of 
the celebrated artist known to their countrymen.
   He was very friendly with Mdlle. De Rigny, niece of the Baron Louis 
de Rigny, the great banker. This lady was owner of the greater part of 
the village, very learned, at the same time advanced in science. 
Daguerre found great pleasure in her society.
   In 1848, during the great Revolution, the inhabitants of Bry were in 
the greatest distress. He occupied them in the park of Mdlle, de Rigny 
in making a miniature representation of Switzerland. Mountains, rocks, 
old castles, ruins, lakes, bridges, &c., all were represented on a large 
scale. A double object was here obtained--an artistic work was 
accomplished, and the workpeople were prevented from frequenting the 
national workshops, where bad doctrines were inculcated rather than 
honest work counselled.
   Daguerre died suddenly on July 10, 1851, in the prime of life. A few 
days before his death he took part in the work of a commision des Beaux 
Arts, and nothing could prognosticate that his end was near.
   His loss was universally regretted. When the sad news reached the New 
World the photographers there sent addresses to his widow, expressing 
the deepest regret for her bereavement. In order to show their 
admiration and acknowledgments to Daguerre, they wore mourning during 
eight days, in sign of sorrow for his loss. A sum of 2000l. was 
collected to build a monument to his memory at New York, so as to show 
to all nations that the American photographers admired and appreciated 
the invention of Daguerre.
   The mortal remains of this great artist repose in the cemetery of 
Bry-sur-Marne, where a monument has been erected to his memory by the 
Societe Libre des Beaux Arts in the midst of those he loved, surrounded 
by his friends, which he considered as belonging to his own family.
   M. Glaise writes me to-day, "The monument is in stone, two and a half 
yards high. In the centre is the bust of Daguerre. The inscription is:--

               D A G U E R R E,
      La Societe Libre des Beaux Arts,
   "On the back of the stone is the date of his birth and death, also 
that of his wife, who survived him six years."
* Louisa Arrowsmith, and English lady.

(Original error of spelling / grammar maintained.  --G.E.)
Posted for your enjoyment.       Gary W. Ewer      

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