Portrait Photography

Images of rulers, princes and chiefs are known since thousands of years, may it be as relief, statue or as painting. It was the privilege of this social circle to step out of the passage of time and so to remain in the memory of generations up till today.

When the economically and socially growing middle class gained more and more strength and emancipated itself from the supremacy of the aristocracy there also came a new self-awareness about the meaning of the own life. This development leads to a general requirement for individual portraits to stand the test of time and stay alive in the memories of future generations as it was known from the aristocracy.

For several reasons it was not possible to share the royally tradition of large-sized paintings by the mid-dle-class. In spite of the economically improvements it was still not possible to held and pay portrait-sessions for weeks and weeks. Moreover they were in need of a lot of pictures. Not only of the family patriarch but prefeably of every family-member. These pictures should be at hand in several copies so that they could also be sent to other relatives in the distance.

This led to the spreading of several budget-priced portraits-techniques. Miniaturists got a lot of orders even so their portraits were rather simply made. These little paintings were cheap, made in a very short time but often lacked real resemblance.

The cheapest opportunity was the silhouette, named after the french general inspector for finances, Étienne de Silhouette, who was known for his ferocious parsimony. So his name became synonymous for everything low-priced and tacky. At least this method has the advan-tage that it could be made as a direct likeness from a screen.

A further development of the silhoutte is the physionotrace: One uses a pantograph to bring the picture from the silhouette-screen downgra-ded to a copperplate engraving. Besides the outlining of the silhouette there are additionally the details of the face, too. So it is kind of a por-trait directly from nature and one can print a big number of copies. The semblance of such a picture is for sure even so they are strictly li-mited to profile images.

In addition to the great demand for individuell portraits there was the desire to see and to present views of distant countries and just discovered areas. Still there were several completely unknown parts of the world during the 19th century and there were only very few pictures from abroad. Some paintings and drawings existed but they are few and showed their objects influenced by the personal point of view of the artist.

So especially the camera obscura as optical aid to the artist was of good use for exploring journeys and the wish to fix the picture on its screen directly without tracing it laborious by the artist's pencil was obvious.

In spite of the high prices of the first photographs the painters soon became destitute. The photographs achieved a before then unknown degree of conformity and attention to detail that the painters couldn't reach. In the following time photographies became cheaper and cheaper until really everybody could afford them.

The final breaktthrough on the way to images for anyone rea-ched André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri with his „Carte-de-Visit“-format. Together with special cameras he gained a patent in 1854 for this kind of low priced mass production of portrait photographs. When the emperor Napoléon III himself stopped at Disdéri's photo atelier to have some Carte-de-Visit's made while his whole impedimenta waited outside these portraits became a must-have for everybody. No mass media advertising of today could reach such effect.

Going to the photographer's studio at least on special occasions became a quite natural part of civil life. So some spoke of the priestly role of the photographers because they are required as well as the priests at birth, wedding and funeral. Actually the desire for one's own pictures to outlive time and stay in memories with all the important moments of life has come true. It was no longer a priviledge of aristocracy but in reach of everybody.

The Carte-de-Visit's next to other formats of al-buminpaper, glued to cardboards were in use for decades. At the beginning of the 20th century this changed to postcard-sized photographs following new techniques of artifical light and develop-ments in photographic chemistry. During World War I this kind of post-card-photographs overtook finally the cardboard-photographs just because they could be made more easily and could be sent directly to the front and from the front to the homeland.

In fact some lightsensitive substances were already known, Wedge-wood and Davy in England already made photograms on paper with silver chlorid in 1802. Just the photosensivity of this paper was far to low to take pictures in a camera obscura. Finally researchers at several places were successful, especially Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre in Paris and William Henry Fox Talbot in London. The Daguerreotype reached an up to then unknown success and spread within shortest time all over the world, die Kalotype or Talbotype lead the way into future of analog photography as a negativ-positiv-technique.

Formats of the Early Photographies







Oblong/ Promenade



Portrait Paris




Muschel Mignon


Muschel Visit

Muschel Cabinett

Muschel Boudoir

  24 x   42 mm

  30 x   50 mm

  54 x   92 mm

  70 x 105 mm

  76 x   76 mm

  80 x 155 mm

  93 x 200 mm

100 x 140 mm

123 x 190 mm

128 x 198 mm

160 x 217 mm

166 x 300 mm

185 x 300 mm

  55 x   55 mm

  63 x   63 mm

  75 x   75 mm

105 x 105 mm

130 x 130 mm

german text-version

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