Museum Folkwang
  • Chronological insights into the Photography Collection – The Early Days of Photography

  • Incunabulum

    Otto Steinert, from 1959 photography professor at the Folkwang-Schule, arranged for the establishment of a teaching collection after his nomination by the City of Essen. This was integrated into the Museum Folkwang as the Photographic Collection under the direction of Ute Eskildsen in 1979. In 1961, a unique opportunity arose to considerably expand the newly founded collection with numerous incunabula all at once. At the time one of the first major auctions of ›Photografica‹ took place in Geneva, and Steinert acquired 369 works altogether, with the support of the City of Essen.
    Included in this lot were, for example, 144 portraits by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson from the early 1840’s; large format architectural photographs from the early 1850’s by Edouard Denis Baldus (45 photographs) and Henri Le Secq (25 photographs) as well as architectural photographs by the brothers Louis-Auguste and Auguste-Rosalie Bisson from the end of the 1850’s.
    Also outstanding are two photographs, one by Jean-Baptiste Gustave Le Gray, ›Marine, Grand Vague, Sète‹ (1856) and the other by Julia Margaret Cameron, ›Sir John Frederick William Herschel, Baronet, Collingswood‹ (April 7, 1867). Shortly thereafter, Otto Steinert was also able to acquire five works by William Fox Talbot, one of the inventors of photography, for the collection.

    William Henry Fox Talbot – Drawings with Light

    Unlike Daguerreotypes, a unique print process on metal with an impressive richness of detail and very popular early on, Talbot’s process on paper, which he patented in 1841, produced a negative from which a number of positive images could be made.
    The first images on light-sensitive material had already been made in the 1820’s. Light darkened the sensitive material and thus ›drew‹ a negative image in an hour. It was immediately visible, but was not fixed and could only be exposed to light for a short time, as it would continue to darken. The discovery of the latent image reduced exposure time to a few seconds. The image, not visible at first, would then appear, without further processing, to the surprise of the onlookers.
    However, it was only with the discovery of a chemical process to fix the images that the invention of photography was completed. The images could be exposed to light permanently without fading away.
    Talbot began with simple experiments, which he called »photogenic drawings«. He exposed transparent objects directly on paper. As soon as shorter exposure times allowed, he photographed his surroundings, family and friends. Five such prints are in the Photographic Collection.
    While the French State gave Daguerre’s discovery to the nation to do with it as it wished, the Talbotype, later called the calotype, found little interest in England, although its future was more promising. Embittered, Talbot patented his process and sued anyone who used it without a license. This and early problems with the sharpness of the negative image restricted its spread.

    David Octavius Hill/Robert Adamson – The Calotype

    Improvements in calotype image sharpness led to a first heyday for this process in England and France in the mid 19th century.
    One impressive example is the just five year-long partnership between the painter David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, a photographer. They produced portraits of exceptional quality. Adamson had the technical ability to deal with photography and Hill concentrated on composition.
    For his historical painting ‘Signing of the Deed of Demission, 1843’ (1844-66) - the founding assembly of the Scottish Free Church - instead of using a sketchbook, Hill, together with Adamson, used a camera to photograph each of the 470 people who would figure in the painting. In an ›open air studio‹, and taken with an exposure time of a few seconds, these portraits are among the most outstanding achievements of early photography. The painting, on the other hand, remained a footnote in art history. Otto Steinert was able to acquire 144 of these calotypes.

    From Baldus to Atget – Documentation as Mission

    The French ›Commission des Monuments historiques‹, the first government agency for the preservation of historical monuments, recognized the advantages of photography for precise descriptions of Roman and Medieval constructions increasingly disappearing due to decay and vandalism. In 1851, it engaged 5 photographers to document the most important monuments throughout France. The cooperative efforts of the Commission, architects and photographers was a success. Some photographers, specialized in architectural photography, using improved techniques such as glass negatives and large formats in order to sell their work to architects, painters, collectors and libraries.
    Among them, Edouard Denis Baldus and Henri Le Secq deserve special mention. There are 4 works by Baldus and 25 by Le Secq in our collection. Baldus made beautifully illuminated images of multifaceted facades and photographs of monuments embedded in their surroundings; Henri Le Secq concentrated on architectural sculpture and monuments whose stone figures he sought to portray as if they were humans in flesh and blood.
    The project later came to be known as ›La Mission héliographique‹. The images, long assumed to have disappeared, were only officially identified in 1980. However, their existence was first suggested by André Jammes in 1966 in a Museum Folkwang catalogue on ›Calotypes in France‹.
    Independently of Commission assignments, other photographers took up the genre of architectural photography. The brothers Louis-Auguste and Auguste-Rosalie Bisson documented the restoration of Notre Dame in Paris. When the architect Viollet le Duc published a book on his controversial restoration in 1860, he included plans, drawings and 12 of these photographs. The Collection holds 34 works by these two photographers.
    Prefect Georges Eugène Baron Haussmann’s creation of broad boulevards in the 1860’s changed the face of Paris. The Commission contracted Jean-Eugène Durand and Séraphin Médéric Mieusement to document the townhouses due for demolition. The Collection holds, respectively, 9 and 26 of their works.
    Eugène Atget, painter and photographer of ›documents for artists‹, carried on this tradition from 1897 until the 1920’s. He captured old parts of the city which were disappearing because of further modernisation. The Museum Folkwang has five of his photographs.
  • Exh_Title_S: Chronological insights into the Photography Collection – The Early Days of Photography
  • Exh_Id: 491
  • Exh_Comment_S (Verantw): Department of Photography
  • Exh_SpareNField01_N (Verantw ID): 184
Untitled (The Bridge of Sighs, St. John's College, Cambridge)
William Borthwick, Jonestone, Landscape and History painter, first curator of the National Gallery Scotland
Henry Reeve, Editor
W. Robertson, Subeditor of "the witness" newspaper
Façade du Château de Blois
Palais de justice de Rouen
Abbatiale Saint-Ouen, Rouen
Untitled (Sculptures at the Cathedral in Reims)
Untitled (Sculptures at the North Front of the Cathedral in Reims)
o. T. (Venedig, Markusplatz, Bronzesockel des mittleren Fahnenmastes von San Marco)
Seine und Louvre, aufgenommen vom Pont Neuf, Paris
»Cour, 15 rue de la Bûcherie, Paris«
Ensemble de la façade de l'ancien Hôtel Montholon, 79, rue du Temple, Paris
Cour de Philippe Auguste, rue Etienne Marcel, Paris
Hôtel Colbert, Paris
Hôtel Colbert, Paris
Caveau, Rue Caumartin, 9e.arr., Paris