Daguerreian Society

During this month of February, in the year 1857, the following article 
appeared in "The Crayon" Vol. 4, Part 2 (February 1857) pp. 44-45. 
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By Rembrandt Peale.

"One reason," says Mrs. Jamieson, "why the daguerreotype portraits are 
in general so unsatisfactory, may be traced to a natural law, though I 
have not heard it suggested.  It is this: every object which we behold 
we do not see with the eyes only, but with the soul; and this is 
especially true of the human countenance, which, in so far as it is the 
expression of mind, we see through the medium of our own individual 
mind.  Thus a portrait is satisfactory in so far as the painter has 
sympathy with his subject; and delightful to us in proportion as the 
resemblance reflected through his sympathies, is in accordance with our 
own.  Now, in the daguerreotype, there is no such medium, and the face 
comes before us without passing through the human mind and brain to our 
apprehension.  This may be the reason why a daguerreotype, however 
beautiful and accurate, is seldom satisfactory or agreeable; and that 
while we acknowledge its truth as a fact, it always leaves something 
for the sympathies to desire."
   This is a sample of the modern fashion of amateur writing on works 
of Art, which limits all excellence to mind, soul, sympathy, and 
ideality, and accords no merit to the most exact representations of 
natural objects, unless the theoretic and visionary spectator imagines 
he can discover something of his own notion of mind worked into it, or 
"suggestively" growing out of it.  The intelligent human countenance 
certainly is, as it ought to be, the most interesting object to a 
sensitive human being; but it must be acknowledged that the pictures of 
still life of the Flemish school, as ingenious works of Art--"objects 
seen with the eyes only"--though they may not excite our sympathies, 
which have passed through the "mind and brain" of the artist in the 
medium of paint, moulded by a patient hand under the guidance of a 
correct eye--have been admired for ages by artists and amateurs of the 
highest intellect.  Indeed, the curious and true representation of most 
natural objects, and many artificial ones, are pleasing to the mere 
organ of sight by form, color, light, and shade, whether they have, or 
have not, any other connection of thought, sentiment, or expression, 
except the taste which is shown in their grouping, and the harmony of 
their coloring.
   The daguerreotype Art is of inestimable value in many of its 
applications.  Its wonderful power was first made known to us by a 
representation of the graceful intricacies of one of the Gothic windows 
of Notre Dame, which was produced by Mr. Daguerre in twenty minutes.  
Now only a few seconds would be required to accomplish what the most 
expert draughtsman would find it difficult to execute in many days.  
For architectural, and other inanimate objects, nothing can be imagined 
more perfect.  In the exploring expedition of Lewis and Clark, no 
individual of his party had the least knowledge of drawing; and all the 
illustrations which embellish the history of that expedition, were 
engraved from designs made by my father from the skins of animals which 
he first had to put into their natural forms; and an interesting 
cataract was drawn entirely from a verbal description.  Now the 
traveller, without any knowledge of drawing, is able to give us correct 
representations of every object he may deem worthy of notice.
   In the Home Journal it is said that "Daguerreotype has killed 
miniature painting, and superseded portrait painting.  The great 
majority of those who would otherwise be the patrons of portraiture, 
are now content with likenesses that are truer, cheaper, and quicker 
   It has certainly killed bad miniature painting; but cannot supersede 
portrait painting; though it may, in a certain degree, interfere with 
its encouragement.  Its pictures may be true, as regards the 
proportions of the features; but they are seldom true in the requisite 
gradations and rounding of the shadows; but sometimes they are more 
true in recording the strong marks of age and some fixed expression, 
than is agreeable to the person represented, and which an accomplished 
artist would soften down agreeably to represent the character of the 
individual.  Their cheapness is a general advantage, which, by degrees, 
will widely spread a taste for portraiture, which will ultimately 
profit by the innovation; for even now it has become necessary for the 
portrait painter to make his portraits not only as true, but 
expressively more true than the daguerreotypes, with which but few, at 
present, are "content."
   As a substitute for portrait painting, the fashion of its employment 
is quite illusory.  It is true that in many instances it furnishes the 
memento of a relative or friend with little cost of time or money; and 
this facility has wonderfully increased the number of its productions, 
notwithstanding the fact that very few of them are agreeable or 
satisfactory.  Yet the art is but new, and improvements are constantly 
making, which lessen the number of failures, especially with children, 
who do not fix their countenances for the purpose, and are taken in an 
   At first, the daguerreotypes could only be seen in one particular 
manner; now they may be viewed in any light; and the late improvement 
of photographs on paper have nearly all the advantages of drawings with 
Indian ink, and may be retouched and colored from the life, which, 
however, is seldom the case, as they are generally colored and finished 
by artists without a sitting from, or even seeing the living original; 
they are necessarily an inferior substitute for animated portraits, 
studied during many sittings from the life.
These photographs may be made useful to the portrait painter, making 
always due allowance for the perspective exaggerations of the camera, 
and the injudicious angle of its position, besides being but a one-eyed 
view of the object.  The stereoscope, in some degree, corrects this 
error, and represents solid objects as seen with two eyes in the 
lateral direction, still leaving them, too frequently, deficient in 
frontal altitude, and with exaggerated chin.
   Many years before the invention of Daguerre, in my "Notes of the 
Painting Room,"* I had written the following article:
   "OUTLINES.--Every artist should be aware of the difference of the 
outlines, whether they be seen with one eye or two.  With one eye we 
see with optical precision, as from one point of distance; but having 
two eyes, the pupils or sight of which are nearly three inches apart, 
each eye really sees a different outline of the sides of rounded 
objects.  The impression on our sight is, therefore, a compound of 
those two outlines, varying in breadth according to its distance from 
the object, but varying least at the greatest distance.  This fact, 
rightly considered, is sufficient to show that in painting, no outlines 
of objects should be sharply delineated."
   "To see still more correctly, though it be not desirable to have two 
other eyes, one on the forehead, the other on the chin, it becomes 
necessary, in order correctly to see the upper and lower outlines, as 
they may compare with the lateral ones, for the artist to raise the 
level of his vision, in looking at the top of the head, and to lower it 
in looking at the lower parts of the face; or else to get his sitter to 
raise or lower the angle of his own face.  This lessens the perspective 
defect of too close a position, and renders the relative proportions 
more truly, as if seen at a greater distance."
   Subsequently I added the following paragraph:
   "Since the foregoing article was written, this subject, under the 
title of Binocular Vision, has excited much attention, and has given 
rise to some learned mystification, but practically has produced the 
instrument called the stereoscope.  Its manifest use to the artist is 
to show the disadvantage of a one-eyed view of solid objects--the 
single lens of the camera representing only one eye.  The stereoscope, 
by resolving two views of the same object, taken at different angles, 
into the effect of one object, therefore more truly represents the 
effect of vision, as produced by two eyes; but even then is defective 
in regard to the perpendicular perspective."
   Profiles cut with the physiognotrace, silhouettes, and pencil 
sketches, as well as daguerreotypes and photographs, all have their 
relative merit; and as memorials of regard, are not to be despised.  
The task of the portrait painter is quite another thing--an effort of 
skill, taste, mind, and judgment--demanding the opportunity of study, 
during many sittings; not only to perform the executive part, to make 
it a fine work of Art, in form and color, but to render permanent the 
transient expression of character which may be the most agreeable.  
This requires all the resources of his Art, all his experience in the 
manipulation of his materials, and in the study of character and 
expression.  His success does not depend on his sympathy with his 
sitter, but his knowledge of the actual forms which constitute 
expression and character, which must be represented by the learned 
touches of his pencil, in making every minute trait as it occurs on the 
surface of the living object.  It is not "the reflection of his 
sympathies," but the reflection of his lines, lights, and shades, as 
they exist at a fortunate moment.  It is comparatively an easy task to 
paint a striking likeness of a person sitting silent and thoughtful, 
without emotion; but to catch the expression of the sitter engaged in 
animated conversation, whether he "sympathizes with the subject," or 
not, and to mark every part of the countenance with a harmony and unity 
of sentiment, is only to be expected from the hand and mind of an 
experienced artist.

*"The Experience of Sixty Years"--a manuscript work not yet published.

* * * * *

Also appearing in the same issue is the following notice on page 64:

   DAGUERREOTYPES may be copied by the electrotype process.  In order 
to do this, a portion of the back of the daguerreotype is cleaned by 
scraping it, or by applying a single drop of nitric acid, which is then 
to be wiped off;  a little chloride of zinc is now to be put on the 
clean spot, and a small piece of thin pewter solder.  A thickish copper 
wire, having one end flattened, is now placed in the flame of a candle 
or lamp, and being brought in contact with the picture, the heat is to 
be continued until the solder runs.  The back of the daguerreotype is 
now coated with wax, and then placed in the bath to receive the deposit 
of copper.  The electrotype will be found easily separable from the 
pictures, and it should be slightly gilt, to protect from oxidation.--

Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

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