Important Art by Louis Daguerre
Daguerre's name is inextricably linked to the invention of practical photography but he had already made a name for himself with his extravagant diorama entertainments which proved hugely popular amongst Parisians (and Londoners) during the 1820s. His purpose-built, revolving, theater featured finely detailed architectural ruins and panoramic tableaus painted (by Daguerre and his colleague Charles Marie Boulton) onto 70 by 45 ft transparent linen sheets which would then be "brought to life" through lighting and sound effects (and sometimes even performers and stage props). The Ruins of the Holyrood Chapel proved to be one of his most popular diorama presentations.
In order to perfect his dioramas, Daguerre would prepare oil sketches through which he tested various color effects. Occasionally, he displayed these as easel paintings as was the case here. The Ruins of the Holyrood Chapel was in fact exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1824 with the historian and founder President of the Third Republic, Adolphe Thiers, declaring that "the appreciators of the beautiful, by approaching the table of Mr. Daguerre, had the [...] advantage of enjoying its execution, so firm, so broad and so dexterous in details", and the director of the Louvre, Louis Nicolas Philippe Auguste de Forbin, hailing Daguerre as "one of the most remarkable [painters] of the time".
It is not known whether Daguerre visited the historical Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh, though several early 19th century artists and writers had been drawn to the rich history of Scotland due largely to the popularity of Sir Walter Scott's novels. In fact, Daguerre painted two other Scottish views - Esquisse de l'Intérieur de l'Abbaye de Roslyn (1824) and Personnages Visitant une Ruine Médiévale (1826). What becomes evident through studies of interior ruins is that Daguerre was able to finesse the various ways lighting worked through his unique diorama tableaus. Indeed, the oil painting captures all the illusionism of gothic drama within the decorative detail of the architectural ruin.
The Artist's Studio is widely considered the first successful daguerreotype. Natural light emanates from a window, casting its dramatic shadow across the artist's plaster-casts and other effects. There is a discernible romanticism in Daguerre's photograph in the way that it intones a direct link between photography and a traditional still life painting. Indeed, while it is generally agreed that Daguerre lay the foundations for the revolution in photographic reproduction, the image points in fact to something more modest in Daguerre's ambitions.
Daguerre, who was by now well known for his diorama exhibitions, was not without his distractors, many of whom harboured worries about the seemingly incessant march of industrialization. Concerns about the use of optical instruments and their threat to the traditions of history and genre painting sat within these wider anxieties. But this apprehension distracted from the fact that Daguerre was primarily interested in producing unique (rather than multiple) images, albeit that they would be rendered scientifically, on a silver-lined copper plate, rather than on linen or canvas. His photographic experiments were in fact extensions of his diorama paintings in the way that Daguerre was pushing for ways of better capturing subtleties and variations in light. It was only in the final printing process that these nuances in lighting became diffuse and Daguerre's still lifes provided the template, rather, for a role for photography that would allow for the dissemination (and subsequent analysis) of museum objects and artefacts.
Given the length of exposer times (typically 10 to 15 minutes), and the bulky and nearly immobile equipment, daguerreotypes were usually confined to the studio: still lifes, portraits or, in this iconic example, a street scene captured from the window of Daguerre's own studio. In the beginning, the world had to stand still in order to be photographed and Daguerre produced many still lifes and images of roof tops. One can see that there is no evidence of traffic on the busy boulevard while the only trace of human life is seen in the lower left of the frame where a shoe-shiner and his customer have remained immobile long enough to leave the only permanent human mark on the copper plate.
Daguerre made various views of the Boulevard du Temple and these were presented to several courts of Europe as evidence of his discovery. The scientific community was astounded at the detail in the images. On seeing the first results of the daguerreotype in 1839, La Gazette du France declared that photography was such a significant invention that it "upsets all scientific theories on light and optics, and it will revolutionize the art of drawing"; Daguerre, it continued, had for the first time in history created a "fixed and everlasting impress that could be taken away from the presence of the object". The artist Paul Delaroche seemed to be in full agreement with the Gazette's assessment when he lamented, "from this day, painting is dead".
Influences and Connections
- I. E. M. Degotti
- Pierre Prévost
- Joseph-Nicéphore Niepce
- François Arago
- Samuel Morse
- Antoine Claudet
- French Panoramic Painting