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Impact of the Discovery of Photography

The development of photography in 1839 by Fox Talbot in England and Daguerre in France had considerable impact on traditional printmaking. Artistically, as in painting, it suggested new compositional devices and viewpoints, and gave insight into the two-dimensional representation of movement. Technically it made reproductive engraving redundant and focussed traditional printmaking techniques entirely on original artistic expression.

Long before photography was adapted to the reproductive processes of photogravure and collotype (photolithography), the light-sensitive properties of photographic paper suggested exciting new possibilities in artists’ original printmaking, methods involving no camera, but where the artist himself hand-drew and printed an original photograph, what has been evocatively called “etching with light”.

Photogenic Drawing

Fox Talbot first described the basic principle of photography, in a paper to the Royal Institute in 1839, as "photogenic drawing" (see right and below).

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877)

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877): “Leaves”.
‘Photogenic drawing’ c1838

He placed an opaque object (a fern leaf) on light sensitive paper (paper impregnated with silver chloride) and exposed it to sunlight. The light turned the paper black except where it was covered by the fern. The ‘white’ negative image of the fern was fixed by immersing the sheet in a solution of alkaline bromide and chloride.

English prints from glass, etched with light

It was a logical extension to reverse the scheme and only allow the sun to penetrate positively through a linear design hand-drawn by an artist into an opaque ground.

Talbot himself recognised this as early as 1834 and organised a few experiments while he was in Bellagio; though having no artistic pretensions he asked others to draw on his glass plates.

By 1839 the process was attracting wider interest and William Havell, his brother Frederick and fellow landscape artist, James Tibbits Willmore, exhibited photographic drawings at the Royal Institute that year. They covered a glass plate with etching ground and drew into it. Laid against light-sensitive paper in sunshine, the sun exactly transferred the artist’s drawing from the glass to the paper. Sadly, with the exception of an earlier ‘Talbot’ experiment, no impressions of these "photographic drawings", English anticipations of the French clichés-verre, have survived. A record does remain of a charming cliché-verre drawn on coated glass, by the caricaturist George Cruikshank, in 1851. It is a ‘Pickwickian’ portrait of Peter Wickens Fry (died 1860), an early amateur photographer and founder member of the London Photographic Club, who is shown looking through a lorgnette at a piece of paper, obviously a cliché-verre print, with above him the caption “Etched on glass. Dear me! how very curious!”.

French cliché-verre

In 1853 independently in France similar experiments were made by the amateur landscape photographer, Adalbert Cuvelier, and christened cliché-verre "glass prints". A French refinement was to paint the design in either oil paint or printing ink on the glass and dust it with powdered white lead or collodian. The varying densities of the ‘emulsion’ controlled the amount of sunlight that could filter through to ‘colour’ the light sensitive paper, so that the artist could print in tones from pale grey through to black. A thick white collodian emulsion of uniform density could also be used as a ground into which a purely linear motif was drawn.

Cliché-verre is almost exclusively associated with Corot (see right) and the Barbizon landscape painters, and largely confined to the 1850’s and 1860’s.

Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867): “The Cherry Tree at La Plante-à-Biau”.
Cliché-verre, c1862. (217 x 275 mm)

Barbizon on the outskirts of the Forest of Fontainbleau had already attracted regular visits from landscape painters wishing to paint in the open air (plein-air) directly from nature. The 1848 Revolution in Paris determined the permanent migration of J F Millet and Charles Jacque. Constant Dutilleux and Daubigny were regular guests at the village inn (as were Georges Sand, the Goncourts and other romantics). Adalbert Cuvelier visited annually bringing his photography students from Arras. In 1859 his son Eugène married the inn-keeper’s daughter and settled in Barbizon. Eugène Cuvelier showed the cliché-verre process to Millet, Rousseau (see illustration above) and Daubigny (see illustration above right) and printed their glass plates, which remained in his possession. Few early impressions (printed on thin salted or albumin paper) have survived.

The Cuvelier collection of cliché-verres was re-printed in small editions of 10-15 prints in 1911 when it was acquired by Bouasse-Lebel. The plates passed to Le Garrec, successor to Edmund Sagot at the Galerie Sagot-Le Garrec, who printed the principle edition (150) before chipping the corners of the glass plates as cancellation and giving them to museum collections. The Le Garrec impressions are on gelatine paper and retain the photographically printed scratches and fingerprints in the borders and the ‘black’ edge of the glass plate.


William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877)

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877):
“Flowers, leaves & stems”.
‘Photogenic drawing’, c1838.

An early salt print. (Fox Talbot initially used only silver nitrate solution to sensitise his paper, but discovered that applying salt, beneath the silver nitrate coating, resulted in a stronger image.)




Charles François Daubigny (1817–1878): L’Ane au Pré. Cliché-verre, 1862. (Le Garrec edition) (165 x 200 mm)

Charles François Daubigny (1817–1878)
"L’Ane au Pré".  Cliché-verre, 1862.
(165 x 200 mm)




Corot Trees

Camille Corot (1796-1875):
“Souvenir of the Valley of the Sole”.
Cliché-verre, 1871.

An early printing, the borders trimmed off.
The plate of this subject was not subsequently
acquired by Le Garrec.
(172 x 118 mm)

Corot was enthusiastic about the directness of cliché-verre. He made 66 cliché-verre plates, which represents two thirds of his entire graphic oeuvre.








See also :


Colour Lithography


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