An early account of Francois Gouraud’s daguerreotype exhibition in New York City. There is no mention of Gouraud in the article, but there are enough clues to verify that its his exhibit that the writer is talking about.
Recorded on February 1, 1840 in the Maumee City Express (Maumee City, Ohio.) The following account of that wonderful invention by which the vestal Nature is wiled from her seat, and made to become the painter of her own fair form; by which Art is constrained to leap from her pedestal and lay herself on canvass, without the intervention of the painters skill; and even the frowning thunder-clouds of Heaven are forced into the hardness, and made to draw—their own portraits, however un-pallette-able it may be to them, is from the Providence Journal. The exhibition spoken of is in Chamber’s-street, New York.
The Daguerreotype.—I visited this morning the exhibition of pictures produced by the Daguerreotype, and propose to give some account of them, which although imperfect, may still interest those who have never seen them. The collection consists of more then twenty specimens of different sizes, by measuring generally six or seven inches high, by four or five wide. Each plate is surrounded by a wide margin of drawing paper and is framed and glazed. They are displayed upon desks, but may be taken to the light and examined at the pleasure of the visitors. The greater part of them represent certain views in the city of Paris; the rest, groupings of still life, formed apparently in the studio of M. Daguerre. The reader may obtain a tolerable idea of the general effect of these pictures, by imagining them to have been painted with some delicate silvery pigment upon a metallic mirror of the most even and highly polished surface,–this surface itself being left untouched for the darks and the greater or less brightness of the pigment indicating the various gradations of light. The protogenic process is indeed similar to this. It is only the lights of the object which act upon the prepared plate, and produce that infinitely thin deposit of silver grey mineral which by its greater or less accumulation forms the picture. The dark parts of the object produce no chemical change at all upon the plate, and therefore the corresponding parts of the representation at the end of the process, appear entirely untouched, and when the picture is held at a particular angle show the bright polish of the naked metal, all the rest of the surface being dull and clouded. This explanation I am aware, is obscured, but I give it, because it is upon this point that those who have never seen protegenic drawings are most curious. Their general effect is in truth so peculiar it cannot be easily described by any familiar comparison, and must be seen to be comprehended, I may add here, that contrary to what might be supposed, these untouched parts of the plate, except when seen at the particular angle mentioned, do not appear bright and polished but form the dark and well defined shadows of the piece, and give it a depth of tone equal to that of any mezzotint or India ink drawing. It may be seen also from this, that the lights and darks of the object are properly represented without being reversed as many believe.
There has been no exaggeration in description of the beauty of these Sun-paintings. They reflect Reality so exactly that it is absurd to criticize them. If you play the critic you must go beyond these images and find fault with the architecture of a building for instance, or the haziness of the atmosphere—matters over which the view-taker has no control. He is the servant of Truth. There is nothing inserted in his productions for effect. You have a reliance in their perfect fidelity to the real, which introduces a new element into the feelings with which you have hitherto contemplated imitations of the outward world. They bring you nearer to the originals than any representation by pen, pencil, or world of mouth has done before. Here, for example, is that most beautiful of river views—the Seine, with its bridges, the celebrated façade of the Louve, and in the distance the antique towers of the Palais de Justice. Here is the equestrian statute of Henry IV, upon the Pont Neuf. It was taken soon after a shower, for you may see the rain-puddles upon the pavement. Here is a side view of Notre Dame with every interstice of the stones faithfully represented. How exquisitely penciled is that beautiful rose-window with its delicate tracery! The most patient draughtman might work for months and fail to draw what this instrument has produced in ten minutes.
On another plate we have the Quai St. Michael and its book-stalls, on the other the glorious tower of St. Jacques de la Boucherie, starting up from a confused assemblage of houses. The distance looks dim and indistinct, as in the reality, but even here a magnifying glass like a telescope, brings to view a lightning rod several miles off. In one respect, however, this is not Paris. Here is every stone and brick, but where are the people? the lively, restless people, which in the real Paris add a new charm to this gray and time-worn architecture, by placing beside its venerable immobility the contrast of man colored, ever-changing life! Here, upon the bridge, is the umbrella of the old fruit woman, but where is the good woman herself, in her lofty Normandy cap? Here is the long extended book-stall, but where is the dirty-faced, obsequious gentleman who tends it, and is at your side, usually, before you can turn a leaf of one of his dilapidated volumes? Here are the muddy streets, but where is the grisette, with her smoothly-parted hair and dark eye—picking her way from stone to stone so nicely that not a spot appears on her well fitting stocking? We mise the bonnes, too, and the gens d’armes, and the cabriolets, and the thousand and one sights which make this the gayest city in the world Paris, perhaps, has turned Protestant, and, this being Sunday, every body stays at home. At any rate, the only human being visible, in these triste views, is an idler sitting upon a bridge. One would like to know the name of this individual.
The most gratifying part of this collection to the artist must be its picture of still life. Here the genius of the painter has come in and dignified, by his power of combination and composition, the servile fidelity of the Photogenic art. M. Daguerre has himself arranged the materials for some of these paintings. They consist of plaster casts, medallions, articles of virtu, cut glass vessels, shields of metal, tankards, engravings; and other articles, most gracefully grouped and relieved by a drapery falling in thick folds, which in many of the pictures is nothing more or less than a—Marseilles bed-quilt. I can hardly describe the general effect of these works better than by comparing them to the most exquisite cabinet paintings of the Dutch school. They differ, of course, in being entirely without color, but those readers who have seen, for instance, the celebrated “Evening School,” by Gerard Dow, at Amsterdam, may imagine pictures infinitely more delicate in execution than this, and exhibiting quite as beautiful contrasts of light and shadow. This same Gerald Dow, who spent five days in painting a lady’s hand and copied objects from their images in a concave mirror, has produced nothing where the chiar ‘oscuro is more beautiful than in these drawings, and where the gradations of shadow are, as it is technically termed, fused so exquisitely. They differ from all other pictures in this—that they show no marks of graver or pencil, or lines, or dots, or any thing which reminds one of a mechanical process. They are images almost as pure as reflections in a mirror, and yet in the representations of the small plaster casts you trace the marks of the juncture of the moulds; you distinguish the peculiar cottony look of the quilt from the semi-transparency of the muslin drapery—the engravings from the oil-paintings, the clear glitter of the cut-glass from the metallic brilliancy of the shield and tankard.