“A TRANSPARENT ATMOSPHERE”: THE PAPER NEGATIVES OF FRÉDÉRIC FLACHÉRON IN THE HARRISON D. HORBLIT COLLECTION
LEE ANN DAFFNER
The examination and analysis of the Frédéric Flachéron paper negatives were initiated to advance our understanding of these important 19th-century photographic artifacts while addressing the preservation needs of all 364 paper negatives in the Harrison D. Horblit Collection of Early Photography. The project, completed in 1998, was one facet in a year-long Conservation Treatment Grant jointly sponsored by the Getty Grant Program and the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts in Houghton Library of Harvard University. Flachéron, who trained at the French Academy of Art, transferred traditional art materials and techniques to photography. These material components were the focus of a technical investigation, including Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy and gas chromatography. The preservation and stabilization of this collection included an item-level examination, creation of a database to record the survey findings, photographic documentation, design and fabrication of a paper negative rehousing system, and guidelines for the care and handling of these fragile artifacts.
1.1 FRÉDÉRIC FLACHÉRON
Jean-Françoise-Charles-André Flachéron, Count Frédéric Flachéron, was born in 1813 in Lyons, France, to an extensive artistic family, one of numerous children of Louis Flachéron, the town architect. Frédéric and his brother Isidore both studied under notable artists of the day: Frédéric with the sculptor and medalist Pierre-Jean David D'Angers (1788–1856), and Isidore with the painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780–1867). In 1839 Flachéron won the second Grand Prix de Rome and moved to the “Eternal City.” There he met Caroline Hayard (fig. 1), proprietress of a shop selling artist's supplies on the Piazza di Spagna (Rouillac 1987). The two married in 1842 (Helsted 1978). Caroline, born in 1810, grew up among artists such as Ingres, who was director of the French Academy of Rome at the time and an intimate friend of the Hayard family. The Flachérons had three children and lived in Rome until 1867 when they moved to Paris, where they stayed for the remainder of their lives (Naef 1966, 1977).
The Hayard shop and the Flachéron home were located near the historic Café Gréco, a well-known and important meeting place for artistic circles (fig. 2).
J.-A.-D. Ingres, Mme Edmond Duvivier, later Mme Frédéric Flachéron, January–April 1842, graphite drawing, 9¼ × 7¼ in. (23.5 × 18.42 cm), private collection
The significance of this café to the history of photography has yet to be fully explored;however, in general, 19th-century patrons included Charles-Pierre Baudelaire, Lord Byron, Jean-Baptist-Camille Corot, Ingres, Gioacchino Rossini, Hector Berlioz, and Franz Liszt, to name a few (Perez-Rioja 1981). In 1853 the Englishman Richard Thomas reported in the Art Journal on the state of photography in Rome, focusing on a small society of gentlemen-photographers.
In the first place a word about Roman photographers. I need hardly say that their places of rendezvous are Lépre and Café Gréco. It will be as well to mention the names of those who are always accessible to the photographic artist, and who readily communicate their experience and practice … Prince Giron des Anglonnes, Signor Caneva, M. Constant and M. Flachéron (this formed in 1850 the photographic clique), and on the whole their method of manipulation is attended with more success than is generally met with in this country. I would recommend any one visiting Rome, with the intention of following this absorbing pursuit, to repair at once to the Café Gréco, where, with a little attention, he will soon recognize his own vernacular in the conversation of those in the central compartment, and by singling out a bearded habitué, … that he at once pounces upon the right man, … whose acquaintance is an introduction to the party. (Thomas 1852, 159)
Between 1848 and 1853, perhaps catalyzed by his training in sculpture and his father's architecture, Flachéron systematically photographed the great structures and views of Rome and environs with a paper negative process (fig. 3, see page 446). It is not certain where or from whom Flachéron learned photography, but by February 1849 he was producing such astonishing prints that his works were eagerly being collected by members of his circle. “Flachéron has made some masterpieces lately. They
Ludvin Passini, Café Gréco, 1852, oil on canvas, Hamburger Kunstalle
Frédéric A. Flachéron, Comte, Temple of Vesta (Temple dit de Vesta, d'Hercule Victor), 1851, paper negative, 24.2 × 32.5 cm, Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library. Horblit TypPr 815.F396.058 (N) Sz2. Transmitted light illumination
are superb and he brought some prints to the circle that were sold immediately. They are beautiful! Constant has just arrived but has not shown anything yet. It is impossible that his work be more beautiful than Flachéron's” (quoted in Richard 1996, 74).
The details of Flachéron's arrangement with his print dealers have not been fully researched. In 1852 three individuals in London—Antoine Claudet, a photographer; Mark Anthony, an artist; and Hippolyte Baillière, a publisher of French medical books—owned his prints. These three loaned prints from their collections to the first large-scale photographic exhibition held in Britain. This exhibition was hosted by the Society of Arts, London, and it opened to widespread acclaim at the society's premises in December 1852. The following year, 1853, Flachéron's prints were being sold through the Photographic Institution, Bond Street, London, a venture established by Joseph Cundall and Philip Delamotte. The relatively high price of Flachéron's prints, at 15 shillings each, places them at the high end of the market when compared to the work of other photographers represented by the Photographic Institution (Taylor 2002).
1.2 FLACHÉRON'S PAPER NEGATIVE PROCESS
Rare and delicate, the paper negative was the first means by which photographers could make multiple positive prints. One-hundred and fifty-five negatives by Flachéron are known to exist; 37 are now in the Horblit Collection. Flachéron's circle used a process first publicly described by Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Evrard to the Paris Academy of Sciences in January 1847, which is a variant of Henry Talbot's calotype process (Talbot 1841). It came to be known as either the Roman method or as the wet paper process. “The work of Frédéric Flachéron, who works by a modification of the Roman Process,” reported the Art Journal, “possesses many beauties, mainly due to the transparent atmosphere in which he operates” (Art Journal 1853, 56).
The process begins by choosing a high-quality, smooth, wove paper (fig. 4, see page 446). In Flachéron's case, 10 of the 37 negatives studied showed full or partial Whatman paper watermarks, and all were found to measure .003 in. (76.2 microns) when measured with a Starrett no. 223 paper micrometer caliper. (For comparison, a page from the JAIC journal measures on the average .004 in. or 101.6 microns).
Frédéric A. Flachéron, Comte, Ruins of Small Church beside a Long Stone Wall, 1849, paper negative, 17.4 × 21.2 cm, Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library. Horblit TypPr 815.F396.085 (N) Sz2. A layer of graphite has been applied to the entire sky area, which appears metallic blue. Note the Whatman watermark along bottom edge.
Photographic Notes reported:
M. Flachéron, of Rome, whose negatives on paper are certainly among the best that I have seen … showed me his negatives and offered to supply me with the identical paper on which he himself works, and which he considered to be faultless: in fact the only paper on which he could obtain a result. This paper was very thin, and highly glazed, and bore the mark “J. Whatman. 1849.” (Photographic Notes 1856, 10)
The negatives fall neatly into two size formats: the small negatives measure 7 × 8½ in. (17.78 × 21.59 cm), while the large format dimensions are, on the average, 10 × 14 in. (25.4 × 35.56 cm). According to the published accounts of Flachéron's method, the paper is cut to size and coated with a salting solution of potassium iodide. The paper can be stored indefinitely at this stage. To complete the sensitization, the iodized paper is placed face down on the glass of the negative holder previously coated with a solution of silver nitrate and acetic acid. It is kept damp by several layers of moist backing paper. A final sheet of glass completes the package, which is placed into the negative holder and into the camera for exposure while the negative is still damp (Thomas 1852). This wet procedure kept the light-sensitive chemistry in a humid, reactive atmosphere and ready for the day's photographic excursions.
Paper negative photographers of the 1850s could modify their photographic processes when traveling in hot, southern climates where unexposed, sensitized negative papers would easily spoil. In addition to the damp paper, there was a second modification that rendered the wet paper process particularly well suited to use in warm weather. This was the addition of potassium bromide to a salting solution composed primarily of potassium iodide, first used by Antoine Gaudin in 1841 (Gaudin 1841). In a simplified explanation of the photochemistry, of the three silver halides, silver iodide reacts the most rapidly to light; silver bromide and silver chloride react less rapidly. In emulsions of low sensitivity, such as those used in making certain photographic papers, the silver salt may be the chloride, a solid solution of chloride and bromide, or practically pure bromide, the sensitivity decreasing in this order. Chlorobromide emulsions were used to make very slow plates, such as lantern slides (Nishimura 1999; Williams 2002). By introducing a bromide halide, Flachéron reduced the speed of his paper negatives to make them more manageable. Another early photographer using the wet paper process with the bromide additions was John Shaw Smith, traveling in the Middle East between 1850 and 1852. He wrote:
When the temperature rose above 85, these papers would not keep during the day, they became spotted. This difficulty I overcame as follows: An iodizing bath was prepared similar to the last mentioned, only leaving out the solid iodine and substituting as follows: Four drops of bromure d'iode were added to the bath, … the effect of this addition of “bromure,” while it nearly doubled the required time of exposure in the camera, was, to cause the paper prepared to keep well during the whole day, under the highest temperatures, the papers being excited in the morning and developed the same evening. (Smith 1857, 257)
Three published reports of Flachéron's process relate similar procedures, materials, and chemical solutions (Thomas 1852; Photographic Notes 1856; American Journal of Photography 1865). After a four–six minute exposure in the camera, the negative is ready for development. The latent image is amplified in a developing solution of saturated gallic acid for approximately 20 minutes. In this reaction, the developing agent (gallic acid) donates electrons to the silver ions present so that metallic silver is catalytically produced on the surface of the latent image. As this coating or plating of the latent image continues, the particles physically enlarge, and consequently the image grows to a visible size, resulting in a neutral, gray image, consistent with a form of development known as physical development (Haist 1979). Interestingly, the developed image was stabilized in a solution of potassium bromide before being fixed with sodium thiosulphite (Thomas 1852).
Given the overall uniformity of the negatives, the consistency of papers, and the high quality of images produced with exceptional detail, it can be concluded that Flachéron probably used the same process for all the paper negatives examined in the Horblit Collection.
To prepare the negatives for printing, all 37 Flachéron negatives were evenly saturated with wax to increase transparency. In addition, Flachéron used two methods of retouching. In the first, powdered graphite was rubbed into the paper surface to increase the opacity of various areas, which would result in subtle gradations (see figs. 4, 5, page 446). This technique can be seen in the work of Benjamen Brecknell Turner at the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, England, and by Victor Prevost at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. For stronger effects, usually to the sky, a black opaquing medium such as heavy gouache was applied (fig. 6, see page 446). Both methods of retouching would yield corresponding lighter areas in the positive print. Flachéron signed and dated most of his negatives with gouache, black ink, or graphite pencil. These inscriptions appear on the topmost surface of the paper negative, that is, on top of the waxed surface, ranging in date from 1849 to 1853 (fig. 7, see page 447).
Frédéric A. Flachéron, Comte, Santa Maria Maggoiore, Southeast Façade, 1852, paper negative, 26.9 × 34.2 cm, Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library. Horblit TypPr 815.F396.070 (N) Sz2. View of negative verso. Note the dark passages of graphite retouch rubbed in the sky.
Frédéric A. Flachéron, Comte, Temple de la Fortuna Virile, Maison des Rienzi, 1852, paper negative, 27.7 × 34.7 cm, Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library. Horblit TypPr 815.F396.072 (N) Sz2. Normal light illumination. Black opaquing retouch in the sky
Detail, Frédéric A. Flachéron, Comte, Eglise della Bocca della Verita, with Fountain in the Foreground, 1852, paper negative, 33.8 × 25.6 cm, Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library. Horblit TypPr 815.F396.061 (N) Sz2. Example of inscriptions: the signature, date, and numbering. 10×