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Le Trésor Artistique de la France

A Representative Example of the ‘Livre-Spécimen’ at the Turn of the 1880s
Laureline Meizel
Traduction de James Gussen
Cet article est une traduction de :
Le Trésor artistique de la France

Résumé

Le Trésor Artistique de la France (Treasury of French Art) is a book illustrated by photographs intended to popularize the French artistic heritage and published by the Société Anonyme des Publications Périodiques (Corporation for Periodical Publications). Planning began in 1876 and publishing began in 1878, and it ceased publication after its initial series, devoted to the works of the Galerie d’Apollon. My analysis of the available copies casts doubt on its intent as declared in its preface. Compared to similar works and considered in the context of the cultural, technological, and economic issues of the day, the evidence points to the work’s actual mission as the promotion of a new photographic process, an objective that takes precedence over the popularization of artworks. The Trésor emerges as a representative example of a type of book I propose to call the ‘livre-spécimen,’ or ‘specimen book.’ That it was never completed becomes less a sign of failure than of the changes taking place in the relations between books and photographs at the turn of the 1880s.

Texte intégral

The author wishes to thank Nathalie Boulouch, Thierry Gervais, Paul-Louis Roubert, and Kim Timby for their advice, support, and patience.

  • 1 Advertisement in the ‘Feuilleton’ section of the Journal Général de l’Imprimerie et de la Librairie (...)
  • 2 Paul Dalloz was also director of Le Moniteur Universel, the organ of the Société Anonyme des Public (...)

1On March 9, 1878, an advertisement appeared in the press for the first instalment of a work entitled Le Trésor Artistique de la France (The Treasury of French Art),1 published in Paris by the Société Anonyme des Publications Périodiques (Corporation for Periodical Publications) under the aegis of its director, Paul Dalloz.2 Devoted to a selection of outstanding works of the French artistic heritage, the Trésor was a collection of photographic plates accompanied by brief texts written by various specialists in the period or type of the objects depicted, and in principle it belonged to the well-established genre of the illustrated catalogue. It did, however, incorporate a major innovation. Most of the photographs were printed using a process called ‘photochromie,’ which made it possible to produce a theoretically unlimited number of photographic plates that permanently reproduced not only the outlines and details of the original but also its colours.

  • 3 These two patents (no. 97446 and no. 102415) are transcribed on C. Imbs’s invaluable website contai (...)
  • 4 The only book illustrated by photochromes that was published before the Trésor contained thirteen p (...)

2Photochromie, or the photochrome process, was an innovative method invented in the early 1870s by Léon Vidal, an active member of the photographic community. After patenting it in 1872 and 1874,3 the inventor continued to refine it in the studios of the Société Anonyme des Publications Périodiques, whose director he became in 1875. There he also produced monochromatic photomechanical prints, such as collotypes or Woodburytypes, which were used to reproduce some of the plates of the Trésor. Nevertheless, this work was the Société’s first publication illustrated with a substantial number of photochromes: thirty of the thirty-nine photographic plates of the Trésor’s first series were printed using the Vidal process.4

  • 5 Anon. [P. Dalloz], ‘Préface,’ Le Trésor Artistique de la France (Paris: SAPP, 1878–79), vol. 1, i-i (...)
  • 6 Ibid., ii.
  • 7 Advertisement in the ‘Feuilleton’ (note 1).
  • 8 Anon. [P. Dalloz], ‘Préface’ (note 5), i.
  • 9 Ernest Lacan, ‘La Photographie à l’Exposition Universelle de 1878 (suite),’ Le Moniteur de la Photo (...)

3Because colour photography was then in its infancy and processes for printing photographs were having difficulty gaining a foothold in the publishing industry, Dalloz could claim in his foreword that this publication was exceptional, pointing in support of his assertion to the high quality of its texts, the abundant illustrations, and above all to the virtues of the process used to produce them.5 According to Dalloz, more than any other process, photochromie produced ‘a kind of facsimile’6 of the artwork – the advertisements referred to ‘reproductions.’7 Thus, the Trésor seemed capable of fulfilling the primary mission Dalloz assigned to it in his foreword: to ‘place … the treasures of our national museums in the hands of everyone.’8 Legitimated by the sponsorship the book received from the Ministère de l’Instruction Publique et des Beaux-Arts (Ministry of Public Instruction and Fine Arts), these democratic aspirations were validated, three months after its publication, by the resounding popular success of its plates at the Exposition Universelle (Universal Exposition)9 as well as by the gold medal awarded to Vidal by the international jury of the photography section.

4There are important differences, however, between the publication’s stated aim and the physical book itself. While certain plates do a good job of supplying the mimetic illusion that the photochrome process was supposed to produce, others are blurred, with muddy colours reducing their appeal and the book’s capacity to popularize them. Did the photochrome process and the other methods used to reproduce the works in the Trésor really serve the democratic ambitions voiced by the publisher, or was the Trésor primarily a means for promoting photography as a graphic art able to replace engraving or lithography in print publications? By analyzing the Trésor Artistique de la France from conception to reception, we may be able to gain a better understanding of the reasons for the work’s success.

To Preserve and Instruct

  • 10 Archives des Musées Nationaux, series T18, letter from Dalloz to Wallon, dated January 28, 1876.
  • 11 See Nathalie Boulouch, ‘Peindre avec le Soleil? Les Enjeux du Problème de la Photographie des Coule (...)

5Plans for the book began to crystallize in January 1876, when Dalloz contacted the Ministre de l’Instruction Publique et des Beaux-Arts, Henri Wallon, to request permission to photograph artworks at the Louvre.10 At this time, the publisher had just offered Léon Vidal financial support for the process the inventor had developed to solve a problem that was one of photography’s holy grails: how to render colours as we actually perceive them.11

  • 12 Louis Ducos du Hauron, Une Question de Priorité au Sujet de la Polychromie Photographique de M. Léo (...)

6Vidal began his research in 1870,12 when an important milestone in the solution of this problem had just been reached. The methods of Charles Cros and Louis Ducos du Hauron had been presented by Alphonse Davanne at a meeting of the Société Française de Photographie (French Society of Photography) on May 7, 1869. Both of these methods used an ‘indirect’ process for reproducing colours and thus represented an alternative to the approach initially taken by researchers in this area, the recording of colours by a single photosensitive substance on a single surface in the camera obscura. This ‘direct’ method had been at an impasse since the first images of the solar spectrum obtained by Edmond Becquerel in 1848, irreproducible images that could not be stabilized.

  • 13 See ‘Précis des Techniques de la Photographie des Couleurs,’ in N. Boulouch, ‘Peindre avec le Solei (...)
  • 14 According to N. Boulouch, ibid., 57.
  • 15 Among these critics was Edmond Becquerel, reacting to the specimens presented by Charles Cros in 18 (...)

7In 1869, however, the colours of the first results sent by Ducos du Hauron to the Société Française de Photographie were too unconvincing to declare the problem solved. Moreover, they required three different photographs and three separate prints so that the wavelengths of the object to be photographed could be analyzed and reassembled.13 In addition, the indirect processes ran up against two obstacles. The first was technical in nature and had to do with the different sensitivities of the emulsions to the wavelengths of the spectrum they were intended to capture, and this made for significant differences among the exposure times required for the three negatives. The second was ideological:14 proponents of the direct method denounced the indirect processes as unscientific because of the artificiality of the pigments used to tint the coloured glass sheets employed to analyze the object’s colours, as well as the three carbon prints used to synthesize them.15

  • 16 J.-L. Berger, Louis Ducos du Hauron (1837–1920) (note 11).
  • 17 Ibid., 67.
  • 18 L. Vidal, Traité Pratique de Photographie au Charbon (note 15), 94–95.

8Nevertheless, the announcement of this new method and of its first results had the merit of reigniting research into colour photography, with Ducos eager to prove the validity of the method he called ‘héliochromie,’ or the ‘heliochrome process.’16 In 1869 he sent a brochure and a number of prints to the secretary and founder of the Société Photographique de Marseille (Photographic Society of Marseille), Léon Vidal.17 There is no doubt that it was this event that sparked Vidal’s research, with the inventor gradually working to differentiate his method from his predecessor’s. Citing the impasse reached by the direct method, Vidal argued that photographers were forced to turn to indirect methods like that of Ducos. In his view, however, the colours used by the latter in the colour analysis and reconstruction phases were insufficient. Turning the arguments of the direct method’s detractors on their head, Vidal concluded that there was no reason to ‘limit oneself [to] just three colors if that means producing images whose colors are wrong, instead of using all the colors necessary for a proper copy of the model. The number of colors isn’t important; what matters is the result.’18

  • 19 See note 3.
  • 20 L. Vidal, ‘Polychromie Photographique,’ Bulletin de la Société Française de Photographie, vol. xix, (...)

9In 1872, he took out a patent on a process for producing polychromatic images. This was supplemented by a second patent in 187419 that protected the printing of polychromatic photographic images from a single negative using photomechanical reproduction processes. Called ‘photochromie’ beginning in 1873,20 this process attempted to simplify the indirect method so that it could be used for the large-scale production of images in printing houses.

  • 21 J.-L. Berger, Louis Ducos du Hauron (1837-1920) (note 11), 70ff.
  • 22 The competition organized by the Duc de Luynes (1855–67) is a striking example of this effort from (...)

10At this time, Vidal was embarked on a fundamentally different research path from Ducos du Hauron, whose primary aim was to develop a process that would be scientifically sound and usable by amateurs.21 In contrast, Vidal was seeking to combine colour reproduction with the ability to produce numerous stable copies of a single image while also permitting that image to be incorporated into a publishing project. This made Vidal part of a research effort to turn photography into a tool for advancing and disseminating knowledge, thus fulfilling the progressive and democratic aspirations of a segment of intellectuals and politicians.22

  • 23 Archives des Musées Nationaux, series T18, letter cited in note 10.
  • 24 Archives des Musées Nationaux, series *1BB 23 and T18.
  • 25 Geneviève Bresc-Bautier, ed., La Galerie d’Apollon au Palais du Louvre (Paris: Gallimard / Musée du (...)

11By touting the various ways the photochrome process would help promote ‘progress in the arts’ and the ‘popularization of sound [artistic] traditions,’23 Dalloz obtained special permission from Wallon. Granted by the Conservatoire des Musées Nationaux (Conservatory of the National Museums) in February 1876 on explicit orders from the minister, he was to set up a photography studio in the curators’ office at the Musée du Louvre and to move there the works Vidal had selected for the first volume of the Trésor, which was to be devoted to a selection of art objects on display in the Galerie d’Apollon.24 In view of Dalloz’s promises, the choice of this collection to kick off the project was doubly significant: first because the gallery contained some of the most precious objects from the old royal collections that were annexed during the Revolution, and second because it had opened in 1861.25 Offering the treasures of the powerful for the public to enjoy was a symbol of the democratizing tendencies of the second half of the Second Empire, a symbol the Third Republic could appropriate by disseminating them even more widely in a publication.

  • 26 Anon. [P. Dalloz], ‘Préface’ (note 5), iv.
  • 27 An industrial association formed in 1864 to encourage national excellence in the context of the ind (...)
  • 28 Anon. [P. Dalloz], ‘Préface’ (note 5), iv.

12Having secured the patronage of the Ministère de l’Instruction Publique et des Beaux-Arts for his book, Dalloz repeated his argument in the foreword to the Trésor, where he was now able to refer the reader to the first instalments of the series devoted to the gallery. Emphasizing the realism and iterability of the photochrome process, the publisher describes the Trésor Artistique de la France as a ubiquitous art academy and museum, whose reproductions will make it possible to complete provincial and foreign collections as well as promote the ‘aesthetic education of the country,’26 thus making plain the didactic ambitions implicit in the notion of popularizing artworks. The plates of the ‘Galerie d’Apollon’ would hence serve as models for workers in the large French workshops and helped reinvigorate the national industrial arts, which Dalloz – as chairman of the jury of the Union Centrale des Beaux-Arts Appliqués à l’Industrie (Central Association for the Fine Arts Applied to Industry)27 – regarded as moribund.28

  • 29 Claudius Popelin, ‘Écusson Ovale en Émail de Limoges,’ Le Trésor Artistique de la France (Paris: SA (...)
  • 30 Anon. [P. Dalloz], ‘Préface’ (note 5), iv.
  • 31 Represented by twenty and twelve of the thirty works selected, respectively.
  • 32 André Chastel, L’Art Français, vol. 2, Temps Modernes (1430–1620) (Paris: Flammarion, 2000 [2nd ed. (...)

13The first series published reflects these patrimonial and pedagogical ambitions. Certain objects, for example, are photographed from several different angles, with the main view in photochrome and the secondary views in black and white collotypes or Woodburytypes. In these cases, the plates showing different sides of the object are mounted on consecutive pages, accentuating the illusionism of the presentation and affording the reader a more complete perception of the object. The decision to offer multiple images is especially interesting. It indicates an awareness of the possible links between different types of communication and suggests that the image was becoming an autonomous means of conveying information, one that was seen as less subordinate to the text than as working together with it to transmit the works and the knowledge associated with them as completely as possible. In addition, the texts following the plates or groups of plates of the objects they discuss are rarely extensive; instead, the authors constantly emphasize that the illustrations offer more perfect – more accurate and more complete – representations of those objects than their texts. Justifying the disappearance of ekphrasis from their writing, the plates thus become the engine of a transformation of artistic discourse touched upon by the writers themselves. Claudius Popelin, for example, explains the technique of émail peint, or painted enamel, instead of simply describing the ‘écusson ovale’ (oval escutcheon) that readers have before them in an ‘excellent reproduction’29. Finally, the choice of works from the first collection selected is emblematic of the desire to reinvigorate the national arts by producing and disseminating models that symbolize ‘the ingenuity of the French style.’30 That choice centres on objects from the Renaissance, or more precisely the French ‘High Renaissance,’31 a period that represented an artistic high point in the nation’s history and expressed itself particularly in the decorative arts, including the invention of painted enamel, which is represented in six of the book’s illustrations.32

  • 33 Including Henry Barbet de Jouy and Jules Jacquemart, Les Gemmes et Joyaux de la Couronne (Paris: Ch (...)

14The special efforts that went into the publication permit Dalloz to conclude his introduction by asserting the Trésor’s superiority to earlier attempts to popularize the art-historical legacy, books of engravings of the Louvre’s collections33 and catalogues of photographs published by the South Kensington Museum. As used in this work, the processes employed to represent the artworks thus seemed able to fulfill the democratic aspirations that underpinned this type of publication, with photochromie in particular considered to yield better facsimiles than engraving or photography alone – the former being a product of interpretation while the latter yielding only ephemeral and monochromatic images.

The Art Book in the Service of the Photochrome Process

15Some of the photochromic plates of the ‘Galerie d’Apollon’ bear out the publisher’s claims, displaying a startling realism rooted in the contrast between the opacity of their backgrounds and the luminous clarity of objects teeming with detail. The resulting impression of depth is further heightened by the material aspect of the plates, which consists of two cardboard sheets, with a window cut out of the upper sheet to the dimensions of the image. Combined with their glossy surface, these features make it seem that one is looking at a three-dimensional object in a glass display case. However, the photochrome process also yielded flawed images, such as the ‘écusson Ovale en Émail de Limoges’ (Oval Escutcheon in Limoges Enamel) mentioned at the beginning of this essay.

  • 34 L. Vidal, Traité Pratique de Photographie au Charbon (note 14); Cours de Reproductions Industrielle (...)
  • 35 These two processes were patented in the 1860s.
  • 36 Developed by Godefroy Engelmann in 1837; see Marius Vachon, Les Arts et les Industries du Papier en (...)

16These variations in quality between illustrations in the same publication are due to the nature of the process developed by Vidal, who sought to devise a process that could be easily adopted by the graphic arts industry. The inventor proposed, in the mid-1870s, to make the most of pre-existing or currently developing technology34 by combining photography with printing methods already in use, such as the Woodburytype, the collotype,35 and chromolithography.36

17The first step in the process of producing a photochrome from a photograph is to colour the sheet that will carry the illustration, a task entrusted to the chromolithographers. For this purpose, they use the negative as a guide, also relying on a largely hand-coloured positive if the original object is unavailable. Their decisions have a significant impact on the final result, since it is up to them to determine not only what colours, and how many, are needed for the reconstruction of those of the original but also their position on each of the stone plates that will be used to print, by overlay, the colour fields of the final illustration. This first stage accounts for some of the differences in quality between plates in the same publication and constitutes a fundamental difference between photochromie and Ducos’s process, in which the colours of the final print are ‘applied’ by the light itself in procedures based on optics.

  • 37 See the plates in the works of Ferdinand Fouqué, Santorin et ses Éruptions; Synthèse des Minéraux e (...)
  • 38 Alphonse Davanne, Rapport du Jury International de l’Exposition Universelle de 1878... (Paris: Impr (...)

18The second stage of the Vidal process is another possible source of flaws. On the coloured sheet produced by the chromolithographer, the negative that served as model was then printed from a matrix created by a photomechanical reproduction process to add to the colour the contours, shadows, and details of the image. This second phase alone was what allowed the inventor to assert that photochromie was a truer representation of the original than chromolithography. The presence on a single medium of multiple layers of materials with different sensitivities to hygrometric conditions also explains why the illustration had to be mounted between two thick sheets of cardboard: to prevent the interplay of the different strata, which would make the image unreadable. Two different processes could be used at this stage, depending on the surface appearance of the original. For gold and silver objects, the Woodburytype was preferable, because its gelatinous ink is translucent even in its darkest passages, and it could be applied to metallic papers designed to render illusionistically the colour and appearance of the metals. It was also good at representing highly reflective or glossy objects like the enamels, since it turned shiny when it dried, unlike the greasy ink used in the collotype, which becomes matte. The collotype process was used for objects with matte surfaces. With the collotype process, however, the photomechanical printing was often done before the production of the colours, and this explains some of the flawed images, since the photographic information tended to disappear beneath the flat tints of the chromolithograph37. In the view of the specialists of the time,38 the photochrome process worked very poorly when combined with the collotype but yielded breathtaking results in conjunction with the Woodburytype, especially when it was printed on metallic papers.

  • 39 Large folio size, 55 x 37.5 cm.
  • 40 Anon. [P. Dalloz], ‘Préface’ (note 5), iv.

19This analysis of the photochrome process can be used to shed new light on the editorial agenda of the Trésor and particularly on the decisions that went into the conception and realization of its first series. Within the gallery’s prestigious collection, priority was given to gold and silver objects, which constitute two-thirds of the works represented. The collection itself and the items chosen within it were primarily selected to showcase the benefits and innovative character of the photochrome process. In addition, the impact of the illustrations is heightened by the book’s design, which embodies all the familiar traditions of the large-format illustrated art book: monumental proportions;39 a well-spaced and luxurious layout of texts and plates, with images framed by gilt borders; red and black titles; classical typography; and Renaissance-style ornaments that complement the book’s theme. Similarly, the authors commissioned – all of them noted art historians or critics like Paul Mantz, Auguste Louvrier de Lajolais, and Georges Lafenestre – took care to emphasize the advantages of the Vidal process even in its failures, with Popelin’s opinion of the plate depicting the oval escutcheon being a typical example. As the publisher wrote in his foreword to the Trésor, the authors’ role was limited to that of ‘commentators on the reproductions,’40 and they appear to have been used as instruments in the process of legitimization begun by Vidal in the first half of the 1870s, which gained new momentum once the inventor had succeeded in convincing Dalloz of the industrial potential of photochromie.

  • 41 Son of the lawyer, publisher, and member of the National Assembly Victor Dalloz, Paul was director (...)
  • 42 Archives des Musées Nationaux, series T18, letter from Chennevières to Reiset, written the day afte (...)
  • 43 Archives des Musées Nationaux, series T18, letter from Reiset to the ‘Secrétaire Général’ (Nicolas (...)
  • 44 Archives des Musées Nationaux, series T18, letter from Reiset to William Henry Waddington, dated Ma (...)
  • 45 Ibid.
  • 46 Ibid.

20Supported and financed by an influential journalist and press magnate, the photochrome process became the centrepiece of a large financial venture, which made it necessary to establish it as a suitable tool for the publishing industry. This determined the goal to demonstrate its large-scale use, since this was necessary to claim that it was superior to Ducos’s process. Hence the project of the art book, plans for which emerged in 1876, with Dalloz’s influence, contacts, and social position as determining factors.41 The need to win support for the photochrome process from the director of the Moniteur Universel is mentioned in a letter of January 29, 1876, from Philippe de Chennevières, director of the École des Beaux-Arts, to Frédéric Reiset, director general of the National Museums.42 In it, the need for such support is presented as justification enough to compel the Louvre’s curators to grant the minister’s request for special privileges for the publisher, even against the curators better judgment.43 The curators had to wait until March of that year, when Wallon was replaced by Waddington, for their fears about moving artworks and the use of chemicals in the museum to be given a hearing. In a letter to the new minister reminding him that this permission was supposed to be temporary,44 they stressed the ambiguous nature of the photochrome process, which they had been able to see in action, pointing out that ‘the pictures they [Vidal and his team] obtain of the art objects are simply ordinary photographs. They then take the prints they make from these photographs and, far from the Louvre and the originals, colour them using printing processes that are quite ingenious and more or less skillfully applied but that have nothing to do with photochromie, if by this we mean a process in which light produces colours through its free and natural operation inside Daguerre’s apparatus’ (Reiset’s emphasis).45 Dalloz’s request, which ‘was predicated on the extraordinary value of the processes used by Mr. Léon Vidal,’46 was therefore without justification, and the studio set up in their office was dismantled just a few months after shooting had begun.

  • 47 L. Ducos du Hauron, Une Question de Priorité au Sujet de la Polychromie Photographique de M. Léon V (...)
  • 48 Gabriel Rey, Héliochromie et Photochromie (Paris: Imprimerie Pougin, 1876), 15.
  • 49 See Bulletin de la Société Française de Photographie, vol. xxii, 1876, pp. 37–38; vol. xxiii, 1877, (...)
  • 50 See for example Jacques Oberlin, ‘La Photochromie de M. Léon Vidal,’ La Chronique des Arts et de la (...)
  • 51 E. Lacan, ‘Revue de la Quinzaine,’ MP, vol. xvii, 3rd series, May 1, 1878, p. 66.
  • 52 According to A. Davanne, ‘Rapport sur la XIe exposition de la Société française de photographie. An (...)

21In taking this view, the curators of the Louvre were aligning themselves with the segment of photographers chiefly represented by Ducos du Hauron, who in 1876 published a brochure in which he not only accused Vidal of plagiarism but denied that his process advanced the cause of colour photography in any way.47 To counter these attacks, Vidal and Dalloz pointed to the plates they were then producing for the Trésor; until the work’s first instalments went on sale, they used illustrations already produced to argue that ‘photochromie is one of our leading graphic arts.’48 Beginning in 1876, the inventor used every opportunity to present photochromes of gold, silver, or enamel objects intended for the ‘Galerie’ at meetings and exhibitions of the Société Française de Photographie, the legitimating authority within the photography world.49 In addition, many pamphlets and articles were published,50 especially by contributors to the Moniteur Universel, who vehemently defended the virtues of the Vidal process against the héliochromie of Ducos du Hauron. They attempted to show that the problems of colour photography and its printing had now been solved, as evidenced by the smooth operation of Vidal’s studios, which was demonstrated by the high quality of the prints for the Trésor already being exhibited. This campaign continued in 1878 when the book’s first instalments went on sale. In April, Vidal presented plates from the ‘Galerie’ to the fine arts section of the congress of the Sociétés Savantes des Départements (Learned Societies of the Departments) to illustrate a lecture on the most suitable means of carrying out the ‘Inventaire des Richesses d’Art de la France’ (Inventory of France’s Artistic Treasures), which was then underway in all French provinces.51 Similarly, the Exposition Universelle, which opened in Paris in May, when the first instalments were being sold, presented an opportunity to score a major publicity coup. At this event, the goal was primarily to convince the public, which was even hungrier for colour photographs than the photographers themselves52 and therefore likely to give the process its enthusiastic support. To this end, Dalloz financed the construction, alongside the photography section, of a pavilion devoted to photochromie, where plates from the ‘Galerie’ were exhibited.

  • 53 See for example Léon Heuzey, Recherches sur les Figures de Femmes Voilées dans l’Art Grec (Paris: I (...)

22From this analysis, it would seem that the main objective of the Trésor Artistique de la France was the promotion of the photochrome process, more important, evidently, than preserving and popularizing those artworks that the process could not be used to reproduce. It is therefore a representative example of a type of book I propose to call ‘livres-spécimen,’ or ‘specimen books.’ These are publications whose purpose necessitates a reversal of the traditional roles of books and photographs. Relying on the qualities of accuracy and completeness attributed to photography in the nineteenth century, publishers often used photographs as a selling point when promoting a book. By contrast, ‘specimen books’ exploit the qualities of seriousness and prestige attributed to books to promote photography by demonstrating the innovative character and success of the process employed.53

An Embodiment of Tendencies in Photography at the Turn of the 1880s

  • 54 See for example Joseph Destrée, L’Aiguière et le Plat de Charles-Quint Conservés dans la Galerie d’ (...)
  • 55 See S. Aubenas and Marc H. Smith, ‘La Naissance de l’Illustration Photographique dans le Livre d’Ar (...)

23With respect to photochromie, the Trésor artistique de la France fulfilled its promotional function perfectly: art historians of the day referred exclusively to its colour plates,54 and in the writings of contemporary historians of photography, the use of the process would seem to be limited to this single work,55 despite the fact that there were other books whose illustrations also employed it. Nevertheless, it ceased publication in March 1879 with the final instalment of the first series on the Galerie d’Apollon.

  • 56 It stood at roughly 860 francs in the 1880s according to Adolphe Coste, Étude Statistique sur les S (...)
  • 57 S. Aubenas and M. H. Smith, ‘La Naissance de l’Illustration Photographique dans le Livre d’Art’ (no (...)
  • 58 See Berger-Levrault et Cie’s advertisement for the Monographie de la Cathédrale de Nancy, which was (...)
  • 59 A corpus that, to my knowledge, consists of seven books published between 1876 and 1884, all of whi (...)

24The exorbitant price of the first volume, which ran as high as three hundred francs, was the primary reason the project was never completed. Representing more than a third of the average yearly income of eighty per cent of the French population,56 it was an insurmountable obstacle to the democratization of artworks for the general public that the Trésor was supposed to promote. Not only was the price quite steep for a majority of the public; it was also high compared to other books illustrated with photographs, even those intended for a more elite audience. For example, the maximum price of the second edition of Jules Labartes’s Histoire des Arts Industriels (History of the Industrial Arts), published between 1872 and 1875, as pointed out by Sylvie Aubenas and Marc H. Smith in their brilliant study, was three hundred francs for three quarto volumes with over fifteen hundred pages of text and eighty-one plates, including forty-seven printed from photographs; whereas the Galerie d’Apollon contained about a hundred pages of text and thirty-nine plates, thirty of which were photochromes.57 The price problem was compounded by the thickness of the mountings required by the Vidal process, which prevented the volumes from being issued in softcover.58 Expensive, requiring a special binding, and limited in the kinds of objects it could effectively represent, the photochrome process thus lent itself poorly to book illustration, a verdict confirmed by the very small number of books in which it was used.59

  • 60 J.-L. Berger, Louis Ducos du Hauron (1837–1920) (note 11), 95.

25To understand why the plates of the Trésor were such a success at the Exposition Universelle, one must take into account the publication’s historical moment, of which the 1878 Paris event was particularly representative. The photochromie pavilion was not only devoted to the illustrations of the Trésor; it also housed demonstrations of the Woodburytype, conducted in front of the public in a temporary studio under Léon Vidal’s supervision. Together with the photochrome exhibition, these demonstrations point to an effort to popularize the very latest processes of photographic illustration, and they largely explain the pavilion’s high attendance levels. This popular interest was also reflected in the exhibitors the jury of the photography section selected to receive its highest awards. The gold medals and Legions of Honour went exclusively to practitioners and/or inventors of processes for printing photographs, such as Vidal; Ducos du Hauron only received a silver medal for his specimens of carbon prints using the heliochrome process.60 Moreover, at the joint request of the Société Française de Photographie, the Photographic Society of Vienna, and the State Paper Manufacturing Company of Saint Petersburg, a special award was given to Alphonse Poitevin for his entire body of work. In 1878, the awarding of this grande médaille was one more indication of a desire to proclaim the success of photographic printing by demonstrating the rapid advances that had been enthusiastically supported by the European photography world since the Duc de Luynes’s competition in 1855. This competition had emphasized photography’s role in print publications compared to the other graphic arts, and, more broadly, the fulfillment of the mission Arago had assigned to photography in 1839 for the progress and dissemination of the arts and sciences.

  • 61 In the corpus I have assembled as documentation for my doctoral thesis, based on a detailed examina (...)
  • 62 Beginning in 1875, books illustrated by printed photographs constitute half of the works in my corp (...)
  • 63 See for example Jules Comte, La Tapisserie de Bayeux (Paris: J. Rothschild, 1878).
  • 64 Hélène Védrine, ed., Le Livre Illustré Européen au Tournant des xixe et xxe Siècles (Paris: Édition (...)
  • 65 Here I take the liberty of referring to my master’s thesis, ‘La Photographie Appliquée à l’Art et à (...)
  • 66 They make up two thirds of my corpus in 1878 and all of it in 1879; in the 1880s, they only occasio (...)

26Photography’s status as a graphic art was still tenuous at this time. In part, this is why the new skills required were slow to take root in the workshops, but also due largely to the resistance of the various professions whose labour they would alter. As a result, throughout the first half of the 1870s, most books were still illustrated by wood engravings or lithographs, and when they did contain photographs they were usually albumen prints. This was true even though certain methods that made it possible to combine photographs with the advantages of printing with ink – stability and variety – already existed and were in use by some workshops, such as Goupil et Cie, Quinsac, and Lemercier.61 Only in the second half of the decade did the number of books illustrated with printed photographs gradually begin to rise, an indication that the efforts begun in the 1850s to invent and disseminate processes of photomechanical reproduction were starting to bear fruit.62 Used in more and more workshops, these processes only worked under certain conditions. They did not allow text and photographs to be printed on the same page, and they were quite slow and relatively expensive, all of which essentially ruled out their use in the press. But they could be used to illustrate books, whose conditions of production, layout, and sale were more flexible. The increasing number of such books also demonstrated to readers, publishers, authors, and workshop directors that it was possible to include photographs in print publications, while also highlighting the advantages of photographic illustration compared to the methods otherwise used – copperplate engraving and lithography – advantages discussed at length in the forewords.63 In addition, this gradual increase encouraged inventors to pursue their research, especially on printing photographs within the text, which would enable photographers to compete with wood engravers and draftspersons in a rapidly expanding market for illustrations.64 An important step toward overcoming this technical obstacle to photography’s use in publications was taken in 1878, when Charles-Guillaume Petit presented his halftone engraving process at the Exposition Universelle. A major turning point, this international exposition ushered in a period of proselytism in France, fuelled by the exposition’s revelation of a broader awareness of the virtues of the printed photograph. Beginning in 1878, the latter’s champions – chief among them Vidal and Davanne – increased the number of lectures, exhibitions, and classes on the subject,65 and the number of books illustrated in this way grew exponentially.66

  • 67 S. Aubenas and M. H. Smith, ‘La Naissance de l’Illustration Photographique dans le Livre d’Art’ (no (...)

27Describing the photochrome process, Aubenas and Smith wrote: ‘The effect is quite startling; it may be accused of attempting to dazzle and overwhelm, especially through the choice of background colour, instead of actually enhancing the objects themselves.’67 This cogent observation indicates the historical interest of the process Vidal developed in the early 1870s, and hints at reasons for its apparently planned obsolescence. My analysis of the photochrome process and the strategies used to establish it, with Dalloz’s help, makes sense of the inventor’s objective to obtain spectacular results from photographic illustration, even if the technical methods developed to achieve them were not viable in the long term. Vidal, in the case of the photochrome process, was not interested in scientifically solving the problem of colour photography to produce better reproductions of artworks. But rather, as I have shown, his interest was in quickly and effectively demonstrating the industrial potential of photography for print publications. Beyond photochromie, the task of the Trésor was to promote photography’s status as a graphic art, and Vidal and Dalloz relied on its other missions to help accomplish this. As the sine qua non of the project’s realization, the democratic aspirations of the political and intellectual world were not entirely devoid of industrial ambitions, since fulfilling them would help restore France’s cultural hegemony in the community of nations.

28Thus, the effort to defend the photochrome process by means of the Trésor – which formed part of the defence of the graphic arts and, more broadly, the industrial arts – took place within the context of a larger attempt, embraced by the publisher and the inventor, to promote and publicize the nation’s capacity for innovation. In 1878, the Trésor was the recipient of undeniable institutional, professional, and even popular recognition, whose brevity and intensity suggest that the publication, symptomatic of a transitional period, was that of a ‘Livre-Specimen’ that could demonstrate the uses of printed photography. A luxurious promotional tool for a process that was spectacular yet already obsolete in the light of the new directions indicated by Petit’s halftone engraving process at the turn of the 1880, nevertheless, the Trésor’s still birth showed that the future of photography in print no longer depended on a strategy of effect but one of dissemination.

Notes

1 Advertisement in the ‘Feuilleton’ section of the Journal Général de l’Imprimerie et de la Librairie, vol. xxii, 2nd series, March 9, 1878, p. 381.

2 Paul Dalloz was also director of Le Moniteur Universel, the organ of the Société Anonyme des Publications Périodiques (SAPP). In the context of this essay, these names are interchangeable. For example, the title page of the Trésor lists the Moniteur Universel as publisher, while the advertisement lists the Société. I have chosen to follow the advertisement, since the ‘Feuilleton’ was the official trade publication of the book publishing industry.

3 These two patents (no. 97446 and no. 102415) are transcribed on C. Imbs’s invaluable website containing the patents on photographic inventions, http://brevetsphotographiques.fr/.

4 The only book illustrated by photochromes that was published before the Trésor contained thirteen plates, reproductions of works by Giacomelli (François Coppée, Les Mois [Paris: Librairie du Moniteur Universel, 1876]).

5 Anon. [P. Dalloz], ‘Préface,’ Le Trésor Artistique de la France (Paris: SAPP, 1878–79), vol. 1, i-iv.

6 Ibid., ii.

7 Advertisement in the ‘Feuilleton’ (note 1).

8 Anon. [P. Dalloz], ‘Préface’ (note 5), i.

9 Ernest Lacan, ‘La Photographie à l’Exposition Universelle de 1878 (suite),’ Le Moniteur de la Photographie, vol. xvii, 3rd series, August 16, 1878, p. 123–24; Alfred Lemercier, La Lithographie Française de 1796 à 1896... (Paris: C. Lorilleux, n.d.), 313–14.

10 Archives des Musées Nationaux, series T18, letter from Dalloz to Wallon, dated January 28, 1876.

11 See Nathalie Boulouch, ‘Peindre avec le Soleil? Les Enjeux du Problème de la Photographie des Couleurs,’ Études Photographiques, no. 10, November 2001: 50–75; Jean-Louis Berger, ‘Louis Ducos du Hauron (1837–1920) et les Débuts de la Photographie Couleur de 1869 à 1879’ (master’s thesis in science and technology, Paris VIII, 1992); N. Boulouch, ‘La Photographie Autochrome en France (1904–1931)’ (doctoral dissertation in art history, Paris I, 1994); Sabine Arqué et al., Voyage en Couleurs (Paris: Paris Bibliothèques / Eyrolles, 2009); N. Boulouch, Le Ciel Est Bleu (Paris: Textuel, 2011).

12 Louis Ducos du Hauron, Une Question de Priorité au Sujet de la Polychromie Photographique de M. Léon Vidal (Agen: Imprimerie P. Noubel, 1876), 7.

13 See ‘Précis des Techniques de la Photographie des Couleurs,’ in N. Boulouch, ‘Peindre avec le Soleil?’ (note 11), 68–74.

14 According to N. Boulouch, ibid., 57.

15 Among these critics was Edmond Becquerel, reacting to the specimens presented by Charles Cros in 1876; quoted in Léon Vidal, Traité Pratique de Photographie au Charbon (Paris: Gauthier-Villars, 1877 [3rd ed.]), 92.

16 J.-L. Berger, Louis Ducos du Hauron (1837–1920) (note 11).

17 Ibid., 67.

18 L. Vidal, Traité Pratique de Photographie au Charbon (note 15), 94–95.

19 See note 3.

20 L. Vidal, ‘Polychromie Photographique,’ Bulletin de la Société Française de Photographie, vol. xix, 1873, p. 219.

21 J.-L. Berger, Louis Ducos du Hauron (1837-1920) (note 11), 70ff.

22 The competition organized by the Duc de Luynes (1855–67) is a striking example of this effort from previous decades; see Sylvie Aubenas, ed., D’Encre et de Charbon, exhibition catalogue for the show of the same name organized by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Société Française de Photographie (April 27–May 28, 1994) (Paris: BnF, 1994).

23 Archives des Musées Nationaux, series T18, letter cited in note 10.

24 Archives des Musées Nationaux, series *1BB 23 and T18.

25 Geneviève Bresc-Bautier, ed., La Galerie d’Apollon au Palais du Louvre (Paris: Gallimard / Musée du Louvre, 2004).

26 Anon. [P. Dalloz], ‘Préface’ (note 5), iv.

27 An industrial association formed in 1864 to encourage national excellence in the context of the industrial revolution. See Rossella Froissart, ‘De l’Union de l’Art et de l’Industrie: Les Origines de l’Union Centrale et la Fondation du Musée des Arts Décoratifs de Paris’ (master’s thesis in art history, Sorbonne-Paris IV, 1990).

28 Anon. [P. Dalloz], ‘Préface’ (note 5), iv.

29 Claudius Popelin, ‘Écusson Ovale en Émail de Limoges,’ Le Trésor Artistique de la France (Paris: SAPP, 1878–79), vol. 2, 2.

30 Anon. [P. Dalloz], ‘Préface’ (note 5), iv.

31 Represented by twenty and twelve of the thirty works selected, respectively.

32 André Chastel, L’Art Français, vol. 2, Temps Modernes (1430–1620) (Paris: Flammarion, 2000 [2nd ed.]), 79, 119ff., 174ff.

33 Including Henry Barbet de Jouy and Jules Jacquemart, Les Gemmes et Joyaux de la Couronne (Paris: Chalcographie des Musées Impériaux, 1865).

34 L. Vidal, Traité Pratique de Photographie au Charbon (note 14); Cours de Reproductions Industrielles (Paris: C. Delagrave, 1879).

35 These two processes were patented in the 1860s.

36 Developed by Godefroy Engelmann in 1837; see Marius Vachon, Les Arts et les Industries du Papier en France, 1871–1894 (Paris: Librairies-Imprimeries Réunies, 1894), 105–10.

37 See the plates in the works of Ferdinand Fouqué, Santorin et ses Éruptions; Synthèse des Minéraux et des Roches (Paris: G. Masson, 1879 and 1882 respectively).

38 Alphonse Davanne, Rapport du Jury International de l’Exposition Universelle de 1878... (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1880), 43; A. Lemercier, La Lithographie Française de 1796 à 1896 (note 9).

39 Large folio size, 55 x 37.5 cm.

40 Anon. [P. Dalloz], ‘Préface’ (note 5), iv.

41 Son of the lawyer, publisher, and member of the National Assembly Victor Dalloz, Paul was director of the SAPP, whose publications included Le Monde Illustré and Le Moniteur Universel, a widely read political newspaper he had owned since 1868; G. R. [G. Rey], Les Grands Financiers et Industriels Français (Paris: Société de la Biographie Française, 1877), 3–4.

42 Archives des Musées Nationaux, series T18, letter from Chennevières to Reiset, written the day after Dalloz submitted his request to the Ministre de l’Instruction Publique et des Beaux-Arts.

43 Archives des Musées Nationaux, series T18, letter from Reiset to the ‘Secrétaire Général’ (Nicolas Félix Deltour, Wallon’s chief of staff), dated February 1, 1876.

44 Archives des Musées Nationaux, series T18, letter from Reiset to William Henry Waddington, dated March 20, 1876.

45 Ibid.

46 Ibid.

47 L. Ducos du Hauron, Une Question de Priorité au Sujet de la Polychromie Photographique de M. Léon Vidal (note 12).

48 Gabriel Rey, Héliochromie et Photochromie (Paris: Imprimerie Pougin, 1876), 15.

49 See Bulletin de la Société Française de Photographie, vol. xxii, 1876, pp. 37–38; vol. xxiii, 1877, pp. 16–17 and 305–6; E. Lacan, ‘Revue de la Quinzaine,’ MP, vol. xvii, 3rd series, February 16, 1878, p. 25.

50 See for example Jacques Oberlin, ‘La Photochromie de M. Léon Vidal,’ La Chronique des Arts et de la Curiosité (supplement to La Gazette des Beaux-Arts), no. 11, March 11, 1876, pp. 93–94; Paul de Saint-Victor, ‘La Photochromie,’ Moniteur Universel, April 13, 1876, pp. 479; G. Rey, Héliochromie et Photochromie (note 48).

51 E. Lacan, ‘Revue de la Quinzaine,’ MP, vol. xvii, 3rd series, May 1, 1878, p. 66.

52 According to A. Davanne, ‘Rapport sur la XIe exposition de la Société française de photographie. Année 1876. (Suite et fin),’ Bulletin de la Société Française de Photographie (note 49), 1877, p. 305.

53 See for example Léon Heuzey, Recherches sur les Figures de Femmes Voilées dans l’Art Grec (Paris: Imprimerie Chamerot, 1873).

54 See for example Joseph Destrée, L’Aiguière et le Plat de Charles-Quint Conservés dans la Galerie d’Apollon à Paris (Brussels: Alfred Vromant, 1900), 6n1.

55 See S. Aubenas and Marc H. Smith, ‘La Naissance de l’Illustration Photographique dans le Livre d’Art: Jules Labarte et l’Histoire des Arts Industriels (1847–1875),’ Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes, vol. 158, 2000: 177n32; Dominique de Font-Réaulx and Joëlle Bolloch, L’œuvre d’Art et sa Reproduction (Paris / Milan: Musée d’Orsay / 5 Continents, 2006), 24; S. Arqué et al., Voyage en Couleurs (note 11), 8–9, 22–26; N. Boulouch, Le Ciel Est Bleu (note 11), 30.

56 It stood at roughly 860 francs in the 1880s according to Adolphe Coste, Étude Statistique sur les Salaires des Travailleurs [...] (Paris: Guillaumin, 1890).

57 S. Aubenas and M. H. Smith, ‘La Naissance de l’Illustration Photographique dans le Livre d’Art’ (note 55), 196.

58 See Berger-Levrault et Cie’s advertisement for the Monographie de la Cathédrale de Nancy, which was published in 1882 but only contained a single photochrome; ‘Feuilleton’ of the Journal Général de l’Imprimerie et de la Librairie, vol. xxvi, 2nd series, October 21, 1882, p. 1974.

59 A corpus that, to my knowledge, consists of seven books published between 1876 and 1884, all of which have been mentioned in this article except Jules Guiffrey et al., Histoire Générale de la Tapisserie (Paris: SAPP, 1878–84).

60 J.-L. Berger, Louis Ducos du Hauron (1837–1920) (note 11), 95.

61 In the corpus I have assembled as documentation for my doctoral thesis, based on a detailed examination of the French legal deposit system from 1867 to 1897, books illustrated by albumen prints represent more than three quarters of all works consulted every year until 1875.

62 Beginning in 1875, books illustrated by printed photographs constitute half of the works in my corpus.

63 See for example Jules Comte, La Tapisserie de Bayeux (Paris: J. Rothschild, 1878).

64 Hélène Védrine, ed., Le Livre Illustré Européen au Tournant des xixe et xxe Siècles (Paris: Éditions Kimé, 2005).

65 Here I take the liberty of referring to my master’s thesis, ‘La Photographie Appliquée à l’Art et à l’Industrie du Livre en France: 1878–1884’ (master’s thesis II in art history, Paris I, 2008), 59–66.

66 They make up two thirds of my corpus in 1878 and all of it in 1879; in the 1880s, they only occasionally sink to two thirds of the annual total. At the same time, we see an overall rise in the number of books illustrated by photographs beginning in 1878.

67 S. Aubenas and M. H. Smith, ‘La Naissance de l’Illustration Photographique dans le Livre d’Art’ (note 55), 177n32.

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Laureline Meizel, « Le Trésor Artistique de la France  », Études photographiques, 30 | 2012, [En ligne], mis en ligne le 25 juin 2014. URL : http://etudesphotographiques.revues.org/3482. consulté le 23 octobre 2017.

Auteur

Laureline Meizel

Laureline Meizel is a doctoral student in contemporary art history at Université Paris 1. Her dissertation deals with the applications of photography in French book publishing between 1867 and 1897. A recipient of the Prix Roland Barthes (Roland Barthes Award) in 2008, she has recently published articles entitled ‘Copie, Reproductions’ and ‘Original, Multiples’ (B. Tillier and C. Wermester, eds., Conditions de l’Œuvre d’Art [Lyon: Fages, 2011]). In addition to her research, she also leads a research seminar on printed photography together with Kim Timby (EHESS).

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