DELAROCHE, Paul

b. 1797; d. 1859

Paul Delaroche, one of the foremost history painters of his time, was not, as far as it is known, a photographer, but he was influential in promoting the Daguerreotype. In June 1839 he was asked to head a committee to present a report on Daguerre's invention to the French government.

At a time when photography is taken totally for granted, one needs to appreciate the sensation caused by the announcement of the Daguerreotype. The idea that a picture could be captured without the need for an artist was mind-blowing at the time, and many artists who made a living out of miniature portraits saw their means of livelihood coming to an end. Time has proved this to be wrong, for whilst photography had taken over as a means of recording objectively, it forced artists into a new form of expression.

Delaroche is particularly remembered for his much-quoted remark, on seeing the Daguerreotype, that "from today, painting is dead!" Though it makes an interesting story, the author has yet to find any evidence that Delaroche actually said this! He was, in fact, a leading advocate of photography, as the following observations, some of which come from his report to the French government, show:

"Daguerre's process completely satisfies all the demands of art, carrying essential principles of art to such perfection that it must become a subject of observation and study even to the most accomplished painters."

"The painter will discover in this process an easy means of collecting studies which he could otherwise only have obtained over a long period of time, laboriously and in a much less perfect way, no matter how talented he might be."

"To sum up, the admirable discovery of M. Daguerre has rendered an immense service to the arts."

Like many good artists of the day, he had students at his studio, amongst whom were Roger Fenton, the first Secretary of the Royal Photographic Society, and Gustave Le Gray. His most well-known work is "Children of Edward" (1830) depicting Edward IVth sons imprisoned in the Tower of London.

© Robert Leggat, 1999.