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Prints and Authors in the Time of Manet

Artist Unknown

Double Portrait of a Man and a Woman

Daguerreotype, after 1855
Gift of Wm. B. Becker, 1985.140

In 1839, the French artist Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) presented a revolutionary invention to the French Académie des Sciences. In partnership with Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765–1833), Daguerre had developed a “magical” process that permanently affixed an image onto the surface of a silver-plated copper sheet. The French government recognized the importance of the invention and gave Daguerre a lifetime pension in exchange for placing the process in the public domain. By the end of 1839 the daguerreotype, so named by its inventor, had spread across the world, including to America, where its popularity—especially for portraits— lasted longer than in its native France.

To make a daguerreotype, a photographer exposed light-sensitized silver-plated copper sheets in a camera, and developed the image using mercury vapors. The process produced remarkably clear, unique images that enthralled the public with their depth of detail and life-like appearance—qualities that made daguerreotypes especially popular for portraits.