The Romantic painter, showman, and entrepreneur Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre first showed his newly invented art in January 1839 and revealed the steps in his process that August. Each daguerreotype—as he dubbed these first photographs—was a one-of-a-kind image on a highly polished, silver-plated sheet of copper, sensitized with iodine, exposed in a camera, and developed in mercury fumes. In the following decade and a half, the craze for daguerreotypes spread around the world like wildfire, with countless artists and artisans producing millions of portraits for a clientele that had never dreamt of leaving their likenesses for posterity.

This portrait, likely showing the composer Frédéric Brisson, was either made by Gustave Le Gray, the central figure in French photography of the late 1840s and 1850s, his protégé Auguste Mestral, or someone in their circle at the home of Mestral. Brisson’s dandyish attire and relaxed demeanor—and, more important, his engagement with the photographer and therefore the viewer—make this image an especially compelling portrait, unlike so many daguerreotype portraits characterized by stiff poses and deer-in-the-headlights expressions.

Cataloguing data may change with further research.

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Circle of Gustave Le Gray, French, 1820–1884
Circle of Auguste Mestral, French, 1812–1884
[A Gentleman, possibly Frédéric Brisson]
Image: 4 1/4 × 3 1/4 in. (10.8 × 8.3 cm) Sheet: 4 1/4 × 3 1/4 in. (10.8 × 8.3 cm) Mount: 7 1/8 × 5 15/16 in. (18.1 × 15.1 cm)
Credit Line

Museum purchase funded by the Buddy Taub Foundation, Dennis A. Roach and Jill Roach, Directors

Current Location
Not on view
Accession Number

Early provenance unknown; Pierre Bergé & Associés, Paris, auction held June 6, 2012; purchased by French dealer Serge Plantureux; returned to auction (?) at Pierre Bergé, Paris, July 4, 2014; Alex Novak of Vintage Works, Chalfont, PA, July 4, 2014