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Getty Museum Mounts Comprehensive Exhibition of Daguerrotypes

Early photographs made portraits available to all for the first time

April 14-July 12, 1998
J. Paul Getty Museum, West Pavilion, Courtyard Level

March 27, 1998

One of the most comprehensive exhibitions of daguerreotypes ever mounted will be on view at the Getty Center from April 14 through July 12, 1998. These one-of-a-kind, mostly palm-sized images, created on light-sensitive, silvered sheets of copper, were once the most widespread form of photography. Filling four galleries, The Art of the Daguerreotype , will feature more than 125 works made during the 1840s and 1850s by European and American pioneers of the medium. The exhibition will survey the finest daguerreotypes from the Museum's collection, which is considered one of the most important in the world. A majority of the works will be on display for the first time.

"The Museum holds a daguerreotype of almost every subject that came before the cameras of the daguerreian artists, including those made for experimental, scientific, and educational purposes; records of historic events; architecture; and portraits of people famous for their accomplishments in the arts, literature, science, and politics," said Weston Naef, Curator of Photographs at the Getty Museum. "The collection is also strong in images of people who collectively formed the face of mid-19th-century America, including African Americans, Native Americans, and others. Some of the most visually arresting images are portraits of anonymous people taken by unknown practitioners. The exhibition provides an overview of the very best of the collection and an introduction to the art of the daguerreotype."

The birth of photography was made public in Paris and London in 1839. On August 19, the French Academy of Sciences announced the invention of the daguerreotype by the scene painter and physicist Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851). Word of the discovery spread immediately and the daguerreotype enjoyed great popularity until the 1850s, especially in America where the process was free from patent restrictions. Shortly after the daguerreotype was introduced in the United States, by the American painter and telegraphy inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, a multitude of practitioners set up shop in major cities or traveled the country as itinerant portraitists. The invention's destiny was suggested in an item carried by the April 1839 New Yorker: "This is the Daguerreotype!.... Here, in truth, is a discovery launched upon the world, that must make a revolution in art."

The Art of the Daguerreotype is drawn from the Museum's collection of more than 2000 daguerreotypes and is presented in three parts. The first, arranged in two galleries, surveys the wide array of uses of the photographic invention, including portraiture, architectural studies, images that document works of art, and early travel photography. It features one of the few portraits taken of Daguerre himself (1848), and one of the renowned American writer Edgar Allan Poe, made in 1849 shortly before he died. A highlight among the architectural works is the rare, recently-acquired view of the United States Capitol taken by John Plumbe in 1846 before the dome was completed.

Another gallery will include twenty-nine works by Jean-Gabriel Eynard (1775-1863), the first substantial showing in America of the Swiss artist's work. It is a record of a late-in-life artistic achievement by one of the earliest practitioners. In contrast to the many populist images by American photographers, the Eynard installation offers insight into a rarefied aristocratic world. When the daguerreotype's invention was announced, Eynard was 63 years old and had already lived a remarkable life. He had escaped the French Revolution, flourished as a banker in Italy and, settling in Switzerland, participated as a diplomat in the peace conferences following the fall of Napoleon. Eynard approached the medium with a sensibility informed by earlier art. His daguerreotypes, made mostly between 1842 and 1863, reveal the aesthetic side of his colorful personality, providing a vivid, detailed, and intimate narrative of his family's life in and around Geneva. Included are images of his family, his servants, his friends, houses, and carriages as well as cityscapes.

A fourth gallery documenting the advent of the daguerreotype in America, features an installation of studio and darkroom equipment on loan from the Connecticut collector Matthew Isenburg that brings to life the step-by-step process used in the making of a daguerreotype. The studio equipment dates from the 1840s and was used by the most admired daguerreian portrait salon in America in the middle of the 19th century, the Boston partnership of Albert Sands Southworth (1811-1894) and Josiah Johnson Hawes (1808-1901). The vintage equipment on display includes all the important tools used to prepare and finally present the daguerreotype, from a handsome wood and brass quarter-plate camera to a mercury chamber employed for developing the plate.

This section also features about 25 daguerreotypes that illustrate the medium's popularity in America, along with advertisements from the 1850s that underscore the industry's rapid commercialization. The new market for inexpensive portraiture enabled working people and their families to have their portraits made for the first time in history. A jewelry salesman, a blacksmith, a carpenter, and a daguerreotypist are represented with the tools or wares of their trades. A fireman is seen wearing a medal and holding a cornet used to warn passersby of the fire wagon's approach. Taken in 1855 by an unknown photographer, this gold-encased daguerreotype is a record of a black man who had achieved a position of honor and respect in America at a time when most people of African-American descent were slaves.

The Art of the Daguerreotype is organized by Weston Naef, Curator of Photographs, with Associate Curator Gordon Baldwin, Assistant Curator Julian Cox, and Michael Hargraves, Senior Cataloger, and Jill Finsten, Education Specialist.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum will publish The Silver Canvas: Daguerreotype Masterpieces from The J. Paul Getty Museum, by Bates Lowry and Isabel Barrett Lowry. The book documents Daguerre's miraculous invention, using first-hand reports to show how he captured the public imagination and inspired others to embrace this unique art form. In nearly 80 examples selected from the Museum's comprehensive collection--many never previously published--the authors present the historical and artistic development of the daguerreotype process, chronicling over two decades of European and American history and culture and exploring the daguerreotype's impact on the scientific, historical, social, and artistic movements of the day.

To visit the Getty Center, contact:
Visitors Services
Telephone: (310)440-7300

For further press information, contact:

Lori Starr or Jean Lin
Getty Public Affairs
Telephone:(310) 440-7360
Fax:(310) 440-7722
E-mail:publicaffairs@getty.edu

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