Daguerreian Society

On this day (November 21) in the year 1846, the following article 
appeared in "The People's Journal. Annals of Industry and Progress" 
(London) Vol. 2, pp. 288-289 (selected text):
- - - - - - - -  -


   UNDER this title it is our intention to say a few words to our 
readers upon the sun pictures as produced by Daguerre, and by our own 
countryman, Mr. Fox Talbot.
   Daguerre's process, familiarly known as the Daguerreotype, has been 
practised so extensively in this country within the last two or three 
years, that no explanation will here be required as to the general 
appearance of these pictures.  All of us who have achieved immortality 
for ourselves for seven and twenty shillings (a morocco case included), 
without laying claim to more than the ordinary share of vanity, have 
been firmly impressed that, in taking a sitting of the great luminary 
for our portrait, the artist has looked too much on the dark side of 
things.  The common remark upon showing your sun picture to friends is, 
"Well, it isn't a flattering portrait, but it must be like, you know!" 
and to this very candid criticism people have hitherto been obliged to 
submit; the mighty artist, Phoebus, of course, not being suspected 
capable of making a mistake.
   Like most people who have a character for telling disagreeable 
truths, however, his company, in an artistic sense, came gradually to 
be avoided; and, like many others of his mundane brothers, he had 
nearly, in despair, flung away the pencil of nature.  What was the use?  
His shadows might be more profound and impressive than those of 
Caravaggio -- his details more delicate than those of the best Dutch 
painter who ever courted the inspection of a magnifying glass; but what 
signified all this, if the ladies would not sit to be made "such 
frights of."
   In a happy moment, however, Mr. Beard thought of adding colour to 
the pictures:  it was the Promethean touch which at once gave life to 
what hitherto had been an image, whose dull blackness reminded one of 
the ghastly lights and shades of an eclipse.  The tinting, which is an 
after process, is accomplished with a brush, as in ordinary painting; 
the pigments being transparent, and consequently allowing of the 
shadows showing through them.  These shadows, it is true, still retain 
a blackness which is not to be found in nature, but the advance upon 
the old system is immense.
   As a great deal of the effect of these portraits, as pictures, 
results from the manner in which people go dressed for a sitting, we 
wish to give our readers a rule or two, which they would do well to 
bear in mind.
   Avoid pure white as much as possible.  Some ladies dress themselves 
out in snowy berths and spotless wristbands; but many a good picture is 
spoiled by the spottiness occasioned by the powerful action of this 
colour upon the plate.  Violets have also the same effect upon it.  A 
lady takes her sitting in a purple dress, and is astonished to find 
herself in a white book muslin in her portrait;  this particular colour 
acting even more intensely than the pure light upon the prepared 
silver.  The very best kind of dress to wear on such occasions is a 
satin or a shot silk, or any material, in fact, upon which there is a 
play of light and shade.  Plaids always look well; and an old tartan 
shawl thrown across the shoulders, and well composed as to folds, would 
form an admirable drapery:  but this is an artistic liberty which 
ladies are very loath to submit to.  At most of the Daguerreotype 
establishments articles of apparel, suitable as regards form and 
colour, were at first provided; but nobody would use them.  "We wish to 
be taken as we are," was the invariable remark; and so they were 
stereotyped to their heart's content in a heap of finery put on merely 
for effect.  We wish ladies would be a little less prim on such 
occasions.  It is quite melancholy to see the care they take to brush 
their hair, and apply that abomination, fixiture, to make it "look 
nice;" whereas, if a good breeze had broken it up into a hundred waves, 
the effect in the Daguerreotype would have been infinitely more 
beautiful.  And let them by all means abjure the system of making up a 
face for the occasion.  The effect is painfully transparent.  The 
mouth, so expressive in all faces, in these portraits is nearly always 
alike; and for the simple reason that we put its muscles into attitudes 
which are not at all natural to it--we substitute a voluntary for an 
involuntary action;  and, of course, stiffness is the result.  If the 
ladies, however, must study for a bit of effect, we will give them a 
recipe for a pretty expression of mouth--let them place it as if they 
were going to say prunes.
   Many people imagine that the Daguerreotype will supersede the 
labours of the artist.  This is a very mistaken idea, the artists who 
hang out their specimens at the door, labelled "In this style, one 
guinea," will, without doubt, be entirely swept away by this powerful 
competitor;  but with the province of the true artist it does not 
interfere.  It must be borne in mind that the Daguerreotype does 
nothing more than copy nature in the most servile manner--it elaborates 
a pimple as care fully as the most divine expression.  It has no power 
of selecting what is fine and discarding what is mean in its 
representation of an object, this, Art, in the best sense of the word, 
is alone capable of doing.  As an auxiliary, however, the "Pencil of 
nature" is of infinite use to the painter.  Some of the best portraits 
we have seen of late have been copies from the Daguerreotype, the 
portrait of the Duke of Wellington in the white waistcoat, which is 
seen in every printseller's window, is a glorious example of what use 
it can be made as a handmaid of Art.  In all matters of outline and 
light and shade, these sun pictures might with great advantage be 
copied, and we should recommend those who cannot afford to have their 
portraits painted by first-rate artists to have copies taken from a 
Daguerreotype.  They will be startled at the excellence of the general 
likeness and picturesque effect which an indifferent painter will thus 

[I have here omitted several paragraphs regarding the Talbotype]

   May our readers profit from the perusal of this article.  It is in 
the power of any of them to secure for ever many a dear association--
many an old shady nook in the garden, where dear parents used to sit--
many a social group caught in a happy moment--many a dear face now 
buried in the grave what would we not give, when these have disappeared 
-- their vague echoes still dwelling in our hearts--that we might 
snatch them from the great tide of oblivion to which they have drifted?  
We would gladly, then, see this art become general;  that each family 
might thereby have its inner life chronicled by an artist so faithful 
and so expeditious, and whose charges come within the compass of the 
great mass of the people.

Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

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