Cultural events

The origins of photography - Calotype photography in France (1843-1860)


  • Adalbert Cuvelier (1812-1871) - Portrait of a man in a garden, 1852 - © BnF, Prints and Photography

    Adalbert Cuvelier (1812-1871) - Portrait of a man in a garden, 1852

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    Tuesday – Saturday
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    Full price: 9 €
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from October 19, 2010 to January 16, 2011 Richelieu / Photo gallery

The term « calotype » applies to photographic negatives on paper and the resulting prints, a process developed by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) in 1840, almost at the same time as Daguerre invented the daguerreotype in France. By making it possible to produce multiple prints from a single negative, the calotype was a turning point in the history of photography. The process was slowly adopted in France from 1843 onwards; between 1848 and 1860 it achieved extraordinay popularity — even though it was never introduced into commercial photography.

This novel means of producing prints on paper, which also allowed for shade variations and retouching, was particularly promising for painters, archaeologists, travellers and publishers. Leading photographers such as Gustave Le Gray, Charles Nègre, Edouard Baldus and Henri Le Secq soon took advantage of the aesthetic possibilities of the medium, and many artists followed in their footsteps, including Delacroix, Hugo and Bartholdi. During several years, the elite of business (Aguado, Delessert, Odier) and politics (Périer, Bassano, d’Haussonville, Bocher) also took up the new process as passionate amateurs. In the 1850s, calotype photography had a major aesthetic impact on art, architecture and archaeology. It also contributed to the acknowledgment of photography in general — previously considered essentially a scientific or commercial object — by intellectuals and artists. 180 prints from the BnF and other important French institutions tell the story of the calotype, the lives of professional and amateur artists, and reveals the splendour of their works.


An exhibition organised in the framework of Paris Photo, November 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


l’article de Chroniques, le magazine de la BnF, n°55 [fichier .pdf – 266 Ko – 20/09/10 – 1 p.]