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

On this day (November 21) in the year 1846, the following article appeared in "The People's Journal. Annals of Industry and Progress" (London) Vol. 2, pp. 288-289 (selected text): - - - - - - - - - THE PENCIL OF NATURE. BY ANDREW WINTER. UNDER this title it is our intention to say a few words to our readers upon the sun pictures as produced by Daguerre, and by our own countryman, Mr. Fox Talbot. Daguerre's process, familiarly known as the Daguerreotype, has been practised so extensively in this country within the last two or three years, that no explanation will here be required as to the general appearance of these pictures. All of us who have achieved immortality for ourselves for seven and twenty shillings (a morocco case included), without laying claim to more than the ordinary share of vanity, have been firmly impressed that, in taking a sitting of the great luminary for our portrait, the artist has looked too much on the dark side of things. The common remark upon showing your sun picture to friends is, "Well, it isn't a flattering portrait, but it must be like, you know!" and to this very candid criticism people have hitherto been obliged to submit; the mighty artist, Phoebus, of course, not being suspected capable of making a mistake. Like most people who have a character for telling disagreeable truths, however, his company, in an artistic sense, came gradually to be avoided; and, like many others of his mundane brothers, he had nearly, in despair, flung away the pencil of nature. What was the use? His shadows might be more profound and impressive than those of Caravaggio -- his details more delicate than those of the best Dutch painter who ever courted the inspection of a magnifying glass; but what signified all this, if the ladies would not sit to be made "such frights of." In a happy moment, however, Mr. Beard thought of adding colour to the pictures: it was the Promethean touch which at once gave life to what hitherto had been an image, whose dull blackness reminded one of the ghastly lights and shades of an eclipse. The tinting, which is an after process, is accomplished with a brush, as in ordinary painting; the pigments being transparent, and consequently allowing of the shadows showing through them. These shadows, it is true, still retain a blackness which is not to be found in nature, but the advance upon the old system is immense. As a great deal of the effect of these portraits, as pictures, results from the manner in which people go dressed for a sitting, we wish to give our readers a rule or two, which they would do well to bear in mind. Avoid pure white as much as possible. Some ladies dress themselves out in snowy berths and spotless wristbands; but many a good picture is spoiled by the spottiness occasioned by the powerful action of this colour upon the plate. Violets have also the same effect upon it. A lady takes her sitting in a purple dress, and is astonished to find herself in a white book muslin in her portrait; this particular colour acting even more intensely than the pure light upon the prepared silver. The very best kind of dress to wear on such occasions is a satin or a shot silk, or any material, in fact, upon which there is a play of light and shade. Plaids always look well; and an old tartan shawl thrown across the shoulders, and well composed as to folds, would form an admirable drapery: but this is an artistic liberty which ladies are very loath to submit to. At most of the Daguerreotype establishments articles of apparel, suitable as regards form and colour, were at first provided; but nobody would use them. "We wish to be taken as we are," was the invariable remark; and so they were stereotyped to their heart's content in a heap of finery put on merely for effect. We wish ladies would be a little less prim on such occasions. It is quite melancholy to see the care they take to brush their hair, and apply that abomination, fixiture, to make it "look nice;" whereas, if a good breeze had broken it up into a hundred waves, the effect in the Daguerreotype would have been infinitely more beautiful. And let them by all means abjure the system of making up a face for the occasion. The effect is painfully transparent. The mouth, so expressive in all faces, in these portraits is nearly always alike; and for the simple reason that we put its muscles into attitudes which are not at all natural to it--we substitute a voluntary for an involuntary action; and, of course, stiffness is the result. If the ladies, however, must study for a bit of effect, we will give them a recipe for a pretty expression of mouth--let them place it as if they were going to say prunes. Many people imagine that the Daguerreotype will supersede the labours of the artist. This is a very mistaken idea, the artists who hang out their specimens at the door, labelled "In this style, one guinea," will, without doubt, be entirely swept away by this powerful competitor; but with the province of the true artist it does not interfere. It must be borne in mind that the Daguerreotype does nothing more than copy nature in the most servile manner--it elaborates a pimple as care fully as the most divine expression. It has no power of selecting what is fine and discarding what is mean in its representation of an object, this, Art, in the best sense of the word, is alone capable of doing. As an auxiliary, however, the "Pencil of nature" is of infinite use to the painter. Some of the best portraits we have seen of late have been copies from the Daguerreotype, the portrait of the Duke of Wellington in the white waistcoat, which is seen in every printseller's window, is a glorious example of what use it can be made as a handmaid of Art. In all matters of outline and light and shade, these sun pictures might with great advantage be copied, and we should recommend those who cannot afford to have their portraits painted by first-rate artists to have copies taken from a Daguerreotype. They will be startled at the excellence of the general likeness and picturesque effect which an indifferent painter will thus produce. [I have here omitted several paragraphs regarding the Talbotype] May our readers profit from the perusal of this article. It is in the power of any of them to secure for ever many a dear association-- many an old shady nook in the garden, where dear parents used to sit-- many a social group caught in a happy moment--many a dear face now buried in the grave what would we not give, when these have disappeared -- their vague echoes still dwelling in our hearts--that we might snatch them from the great tide of oblivion to which they have drifted? We would gladly, then, see this art become general; that each family might thereby have its inner life chronicled by an artist so faithful and so expeditious, and whose charges come within the compass of the great mass of the people. -------------------------------------------------------------- 11-21-98

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