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  The research archive of Gary W. Ewer regarding the history of the daguerreotype

On this day (January 12) in the year 1839, the following article appeared in "The Literary Gazette" (London): - - - - - - - - - - - - under the heading: "FINE ARTS" The Daguerotype Paris, 6th January, 1839 We have much pleasure in announcing an important discovery made by M. Daguerre, the celebrated painter of the Diorama. This discovery seems like a prodigy. It disconcerts all the theories of science in light and optics, and, if borne out, promises to make a revolution in the arts of design. M. Daguerre has discovered a method to fix the images which are represented at the back of a camera obscura; so that these images are not the temporary reflection of the object, but their fixed and durable impress, which may be removed from the presence of those objects like a picture or an engraving. Let our readers fancy the fidelity of the image of nature figured by the camera obscura, and add to it an action of the solar rays which fixes this image, with all its gradations of lights, shadows, and middle tints, and they will have an idea of the beautiful designs, with a sight of which M. Daguerre has gratified our curiosity. M. Daguerre cannot act on paper; he requires a plate of polished metal. It was on copper that we saw several points of the Boulevards, Pont Marie, and the environs, and many other spots, given with a truth which Nature alone can give to her works. M. Daguerre shews you the plain plate of copper: he places it, in your presence, in his apparatus, and, in three minutes, if there is a bright summer sun, and a few more, if autumn or winter weaken the power of its beams, he takes out the metal and shews it to you, covered with a charming design representing the object towards which the apparatus was turned. Nothing remains but a short mechanical operation--of washing, I believe--and the design, which has been obtained in so few moments, remains unalterably fixed, so that the hottest sun cannot destroy it. Messrs. Arago, Biot, and Von Humboldt, have ascertained the reality of this discovery, which excited their admiration; and M. Arago will, in a few days, make it known to the Academy of Sciences. I add some further particulars. Nature in motion cannot be represented, or at least not without great difficulty, by the process in question. In one of the views of the Boulevards, of which I have spoken, all that was walking or moving does not appear in the design; of two horses in a hackney coach on the stand, one unluckily moved its head during the short operation; the animal is without a head in the design. Trees are very well represented; but their colour, as it seems, hinders the solar rays from producing their image as quickly as that of houses, and other objects of a different colour. This causes a difficulty for landscape, because there is a certain fixed point of perfection for trees, and another for all objects the colours of which are not green. The consequence is, that when the houses are finished, the trees are not, and when the trees are finished, the houses are too much so. Inanimate nature, architecture, are the triumph of the apparatus which M. Daguerre means to call after his own name--Daguerotype. A dead spider, seen in the solar microscope, is finished with such detail in the design, that you may study its anatomy, with or without a magnifying glass, as if it were nature itself; not a fibre, not a nerve, but you may trace and examine. For a few hundred francs travellers may, perhaps, be soon able to procure M. Daguerre's apparatus, and bring back views of the finest monuments, and of the most delightful scenery of the whole world. They will see how far their pencils and brushes are from the truth of the Daguerotype. Let not the draughtsman and the painter, however, despair--the results obtained by M. Daguerre are very different from their works, and, in many cases, cannot be a substitute for them. The effects of this new process have some resemblance to line engraving and mezzotinto, but are much nearer to the latter: as for truth, they surpass everything. I have spoken of the discovery only as it regards art. If what I have heard is correct, M. Daguerre's discovery tends to nothing less than a new theory on an important branch of science. M. D. generously owns that the first idea of his process was given him, fifteen years ago, by M. Nieps, of Chalons-sur-Saone; but in so imperfect a state, that it has cost him long and persevering labour to attain the object. H. Gaucheraud. (Cited from a transcription in Scharf, Aaron. "Pioneers of Photography" (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1975) p. 41. Scharf notes that this report is taken "...from the 'Gazette de France' of 6 January 1839, which pre- empted the official announcement made by Francois Arago at a meeting of the Academie des Sciences on 7 January.") -------------------------------------------------------------- 01-12-98

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