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Exhibition: American daguerreotypes in Bry-sur-Marne

The Daguerreian Portrait in America / Le portrait daguerreian en Amerique is an exhibition that will open will open in the home of Louis J M Daguerre in Bry-sur-Marne, France (near Paris) in September of 2013. It will be the first public exhibition of photographs ever held in the mansion once occupied by the inventor of photography.

More than 60 images will be included in the display, including daguerreotypes by such early American masters as Jeremiah Gurney and the Boston partners Southworth & Hawes. Among the portraits exhibited for the first time will be a daguerreotype taken in the world’s first studio of photography, the only such documented portrait currently known. Important identified images include daguerreotypes of Helen De Kroyft, “The Blind Authoress of New York” and of Benn Pitman, Chief Court Reporter at the trial of Abraham Lincoln’s assassins. Many of the most striking portraits, however, are character studies of unknown Americans -- depicted as they wished to be remembered, whether posing with a favourite pet or showing off the tools of their trade.

The exhibition in Daguerre’s mansion continues at the Musée Gatien-Bonnet in the nearby city of Lagny-sur-Marne. Here, more American photographic portraits, from the daguerreotype period through the year 1900, are featured.

Sometimes the portraits emphasize ethnic or racial identities, including dramatic portrayals of Native Americans and African Americans. Others depict the subjects at work: a windmill salesman closing a deal, a farmer selling his grain, and armed soldiers from the American Civil War. There are drinkers and temperance advocates, prisoners and sheriffs, chimney sweeps and newsboys—as well as several ghosts captured by the camera.

The exhibition is one of several projects related to Louis Daguerre sponsored by the City of Bry-sur-Marne and its Mayor, Jean-Pierre Spilbauer. Other events at Bry in the Fall of 2013 include the unveiling of Daguerre’s last surviving Diorama painting after a multi-year restoration; a workshop on 19th century processes of photography; and the 25th Annual Meeting of The Daguerreian Society.

The exhibition is co-curated by Prof. François Brunet of the University of Paris – Diderot, an internationally-recognized scholar specializing in 19th Century American photography, and by Wm. B. Becker, founder of the online American Museum of Photography  ( The exhibit at the Maison Daguerre is under the direction of Margaret Calvarin, and the exhibit at Musée Gatien-Bonnet is under the direction of Celine Cotty.

A book is in preparation. The exhibition is available to travel beginning in 2014. 

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