The Daguerreian Society



From Jeremiah Gurney, Etchings on Photography (New York: John P. Pratt, Printer, 1856) pp. 23-24.

From Glances at the Metropolis

SUNLIGHT PAINTINGS.

   We have bridled the lightning, and enchained the sun. Not long ago, one of our greatest artists said, on leaving GURNEY'S Daguerrean Gallery, 349 Broadway, that he was amazed to see the taste and artistic discrimination displayed in the arrangement, light, shade and draping of the pictures. Painters have alleged that the Daguerreotype is too mechanical to admit of high artistic developments. But here as elsewhere it is the man who makes the art. For all practical—not ideal—purposes, the Daguerreotype accomplishes in hours, what art in its higher forms only achieves in years. The Daguerrean Artist of talent and research brings to his aid the subtlest secrets of science. In grouping and draping his figures, in softening or intensifying light, in subduing minor parts by well chosen mazes of dark, and in the atmosphere, which corresponds delicately and effectively to all these—he has a field in which competition soon shows the difference between the mechanic and the man of sentiment. This word sentiment reveals much of all art; for without it the feelings are not touched. Hence, Cimabue and Fra Angelica, who were the "resurrection and the life" of art in the middle ages, by the magic power of devotion and sensibility breathed through their works, recall scenes the devout witnessed when God's fire descended to light the flames of his own sacrifice. All this has much to do with the Daguerreotype; for no man has any right to call himself an artist unless he feels what art is. In this respect Gurney claims admiration. He lives in his atelier, studying the effects of his art in every impression the sun paints for him, and dots down his observations like a philosopher and an artist. This patient course of practical study accounts for his being at the very head of the Daguerrean Art. Let our readers, in passing through his superb gallery, not forget to look at a copy of Freeman's Historical Picture, "The Marys at the Tomb of the Saviour." The best Daguerreotypists of Rome had vainly attempted to make good copies of this picture; and failing, pronounced the difficulties insurmountable. Gurney, however, did not find them so. The painting was brought to this country, and his copy therefrom illustrates his superior knowledge in contending with the difficulties of copying by this process a picture painted on so peculiar a key, where the Principal mass of light is raised to the highest intensity of the pallet, and where the secondary groups are graduated from, a brilliant half-tint into a night of shadows; beyond which stretches that line of sad mourning light—half revealed—which glooms solemnly over the "Holy City." The Roman Daguerreotypists never could bring out the angels in this picture, without losing the women; for here the heavenly could not be seen in their light, with the earthly in their shadow; and if they brought out the Marys, they had to keep the instrument so long before the picture that the angels were burnt out. This glorious triumph of the Daguerreotype is immeasurably the finest work of the kind we have ever seen, and it is but a just tribute to Gurney, to say that he is now the all-excelling Artist, painting with the sunbeams of Heaven.

(End of text. Please refer to our textnote regarding this text.)

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