The Daguerreian Society

On this day (July 26) in the year 1851, the following article appeared 
in "The Illustrated London News" pp. 117-8: 
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LOUIS JACQUES MAUDE [MANDE -ed.] DAGUERRE, whose name is for ever 
associated with the Photograph process, of which he was the discoverer, 
died on the 10th instant, in Paris, in the sixty-second year of his age. 
He was a man of extreme modesty and great personal worth, and devoted to 
his profession, that of an artist. 
Daguerre was favourably known to the world before the announcement of 
his discovery of the Daguerreotype. His attempts to improve panoramic 
painting, and the production of dioramic effects, were crowned with the 
most eminent success. The following pictures attracted much attention at 
the times of their exhibition:--"The Midnight Mass," "Land-slip in the 
valley of Goldau," "The Temple of Solomon," and the "Cathedral of Sainte 
Marie de Montreal." In these, the alternate effects of night and day--of 
storm and sunshine--were beautifully produced. To these effects of light 
were added others, arising from the decomposition of form by means of 
which, for example in the " Midnight Mass," figures appeared where the 
spectators had just beheld seats, altars, &c; or again, as in "The 
Valley of Goldau," in which rocks tumbling from the mountains replaced 
the prospect of a smiling valley. The methods adopted in these pictures 
were published at the same time with the process of the Daguerreotype, 
by order of the French Government who awarded an annual pension of 
10,000 francs to Daguerre and M. Niepce, jun, whose father had 
contributed towards the discovery of the Daguerreotype. 
It would appear that Daguerre was led to make some experiments on the 
chemical changes produced by the solar radiations, with the hope of 
being enabled to apply the curious phenomena to the production of 
peculiar effects in his dioramic paintings. As the question of the real 
part taken by Daguerre, in the process to which be has given his name, 
has been from time to time discussed, and sometimes to his disadvantage, 
it appears important that the position should be correctly determined. 
In 1802, Wedgwood, of Etruria, the celebrated potter, made the first 
recorded experiments in photography; and these, with some additional 
ones by Sir Humphry Davy, were published in the journals of the Royal 
In 1814, Mr. Joseph Nicephore Niepce was engaged in experiments to 
determine the possibility of fixing the. images obtained in the. camera 
obscura; but there does not appear any evidence of publication of any 
kind previously to 1827, when Niepce was in England, residing at Kew. 
He. then wrote several letters to Mr. Bauer, the. celebrated microscopic 
observer, which are preserved and printed in Hunt's "Researches on 
Light," he also sent specimens of results obtained to the Royal Society, 
and furnished some to the cabinets of the curious, a few of which are 
yet in existence. These were pictures on metallic plates, covered with a 
fine film of resin. 
In 1824 Daguerre commenced his researches, starting from that point at 
which Wedgwood left the process. He soon abandoned the employment of the 
nitrate. and chloride of silver, and proceeded with his inquiry-using 
plates of metal and glass to receive. his sensitive coatings. 
In 1829 M. Vincent Chevalier brought Niepce and Daguerre together, when 
they entered into partnership to prosecute the subject in common. 
For a long time, they appear to have used the resinous surfaces only, 
when the contrast between the resin and the metal plates not being 
sufficiently great to give a good picture, endeavours were made to 
blacken that part of the plate from which the resin was removed in the 
process of heliography (sun-drawing), as it was most happily called. 
Amongst other materials, iodine was employed; and Daguerre certainly was 
the first to notice the property possessed by the iodine coating of 
changing under the influence of the sun's rays. The following letter 
from Niepce to Daguerre on this subject will be read with interest:-- 

                                 "81, LOUP DE VARENNES, June 24, 1831. 
"Sir, and dear Partner,--I had long expected to hear from you with too 
much impatience not to receive and read, with the greatest pleasure, 
your letters of the 10th and 21st of last May. I shall confine myself in 
this reply to yours of the 21st, because having been engaged ever since 
it reached me in your experiments on iodine, I hasten to communicate to 
you the results which I have obtained. I had given my attention to 
similar researches previous to our connexion, but without hope of 
success, from the impossibility, or nearly so, in my opinion, of fixing 
in any durable manner the images received on iodine, even supposing the 
difficulty surmounted of replacing the lights and shadows in their 
natural order. My results in this respect have been entirely similar to 
those which the oxide of silver gave me; and promptitude of operation 
was the sole advantage which these substances appeared to offer. 
Nevertheless, last year, after you left this, I subjected iodine to new 
trials but by a different mode of application. I informed you of the 
results, and your answer, not at all encouraging, decided me to carry 
these experiments no further. It appears that you have since viewed the 
question under a less desperate aspect, and I do not hesitate to reply 
to the appeal which you have made.
                                                  "J. N. NIEPCE." 

From the above and other letters, it is evident that Niepce had used 
iodine, and abandoned it on account of the difficulty of reversing the 
lights and shadows. Daguerre employed it also; and, as it appears, with 
far more promise of success than any obtained by M. Niepce. On the 5th 
of July, 1833, Niepce died; in 1837 Daguerre and Isidore Niepce, the son 
and heir of Nicephore Niepce, entered into a definite agreement; and, in 
a letter written on the 1st November, 1837, to Daguerre, Isidore Niepce 
says, "What a difference, also, between the method which you employ and 
the one by which I toil on! While I require almost a whole day to make 
one design, you ask only four minutes! What an enormous advantage! It is 
so great, indeed, that no person, knowing both methods, would employ the 
old one." 
From this time it is established, that, although both Niepce and 
Daguerre used iodine, the latter alone employed it with any degree of 
success, and the discovery of the use of mercurial vapour to produce the 
positive image clearly belongs to Daguerre. In January, 1839, the 
Daguerreotype pictures were first shown to the scientific and artistic 
public of Paris. The sensation they created was great, and the highest 
hopes of its utility were entertained. 
On the 15th June, M. Duchatel, Minister of the Interior, presented a 
bill to the Chamber of Deputies relative to the purchase of the process 
of M. Daguerre, for fixing the images of the camera. A commission 
appointed by the Chamber, consisting of Arago, Etienne, Carl, Vatout, de 
Beaumont, Tournorer, Delessert, (Francois). Combarel do Leyval, and 
Vitet, made their report on the 3rd of July, and a special commission 
was appointed by the Chamber of Peers, composed of the following peers 
:--Barons Athalin, Besson, Gay Lussac, the Marquis de Laplace. Vicomte 
Simeon, Baron Thenard, and the Comte do Noe, who reported favourably on 
the 30th July, 1839, and recommended unanimously that the bill be 
adopted simply and without alteration, 
On the 19th of August the secret was for the first time publicly 
announced in the Institute by M. Arago, the English patent having been 
completed a few days before, in open defiance and contradiction of the 
statement of M. Duchatel to the Chamber of Deputies, who used these 
words "Unfortunately for the authors of this beautiful discovery it is 
impossible for them to bring their labours into the market, and thus 
indemnify themselves for the sacrifices incurred, by so many attempts so 
long fruitless.  This invention does not admit of being secured by 
patent." In conclusion, the Minister of the Interior said, "You will 
concur in a sentiment which has already awakened universal sympathy; you 
will never suffer us to leave to foreign nations the glory of endowing 
the world of science and of art with one of the most wonderful 
discoveries that honour our native land. 
Daguerre never did much towards the improvement of his process.  The 
high degree of sensibility which has been attained has been due to the 
experiments of others, principally Englishmen. But this sensibility is 
now far exceeded by Mr. Fox Talbot, by his preparation of glass plates, 
which are susceptible of receiving absolutely instantaneous impressions 
M. Daguerre was a member of the French Academy of Fine Arts, of the 
Academy of St. Luke; and many of his pictures are highly valued by his 
Our Portrait is from a Daguerreotype by Claudet, for which M. Daguerre 
sat in 1846. 
This article is available, along with its wood engraving portrait of 
Daguerre, on The Daguerreian Society's website at: 
Posted for your enjoyment.       Gary W. Ewer      

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