13 December 2015, during the 2015 French Regional elections, a small cased image popped up in a suburbian auction room: Sceaux.
With an estimation at 100 euros for a group of 4 daguerrian portraits, the auctioneer, Maitre Siboni, started lot 270 at 100 euros, as he knew there were two phones already, increasing 100 by 100. The bidding jumped suddenly to 5 000 euros, followed by 5 500, another jump to 10 000 followed by 11 000, another to 20 000 followed by 21 000 euros.
After the long race from 100 euros, one bidder on the phone stopped at 60.000 but someone started at that point for a couple of new bits. The lot reached 64 000 euros plus premium.
This image is 165 years old:
The daguerrian portrait is a small half-plate, 130×100 mm. It bears no stamp nor label. It has been open many years ago. A name has been added on the image with a dry point, at the limit of the oval frame, five six letters illegible, « Cr ? Gr ?.
The cased image is a portrait of the Prince President, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte who won the elections exactly 165 years ago, December 10-11, 1848 (with the support of Victor Hugo…). President of French Second Republic.
Context : The new constitution of the Second Republic, drafted by a commission including Alexis de Tocqueville, called for a strong executive and a president elected by popular vote, through universal male suffrage, rather than chosen by the National Assembly.
The elections were scheduled for 10–11 December 1848. Louis Napoleon promptly announced his candidacy. There were four other candidates for the post; General Louis-Eugène Cavaignac, the Minister of Defense who had led the suppression of the June uprisings in Paris; Lamartine, the poet-philosopher and leader of the provisional government; Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, the leader of the socialists; and Raspail, the leader of the far left wing of the socialists.
Louis-Napoleon established his campaign headquarters and residence at the Hotel du Rhin on Place Vendôme. He was accompanied by his companion, Harriet Howard, who gave him a large loan to help finance his campaign. He rarely went to the sessions of the National Assembly, and rarely voted. He was not a gifted orator; he spoke slowly, in a monotone, with a slight German accent from his Swiss education. His opponents sometimes ridiculed him, one comparing him to « a turkey who believes he’s an eagle. »
His campaign appealed to both the left and right. His election manifesto proclaimed his support for « religion, the family, property, the eternal basis of all social order. » But it also announced his intent « to give work to those unoccupied; to look out for the old age of the workers; to introduce in industrial laws those improvements which don’t ruin the rich, but which bring about the well-being of each and the prosperity of all. »
His campaign agents, many of them veterans from Napoleon Bonaparte’s Army, raised support for him around the country. He won the grudging endorsement of the conservative leader, Adolphe Thiers, who believed he could be the most easily controlled; Thiers called him « of all the candidates, the least bad. »He won the backing of l’Evenement, the newspaper of Victor Hugo, which declared, « We have confidence in him; he carries a great name. »
His chief opponent, General Cavaignac, expected that Louis-Napoleon would come in first, but that he would receive less than fifty percent of the vote, which would mean the election would go to the National Assembly, where Cavaignac was certain to win.
The elections were held on 10–11 December, and results announced on 20 December. Louis-Napoleon was widely expected to win, but the size of his victory surprised almost everyone. He won 5,572,834 votes, or 74.2 percent of votes cast, compared with 1,469,156 for Cavaignac. The socialist Ledru-Rollin received 376,834; the extreme left candidate Raspail received 37,106, and the poet Lamartine received only 17,000 votes. Louis-Napoleon won the support of all parts of the population: the peasants unhappy with rising prices; unemployed workers; small businessmen who wanted prosperity and order; and intellectuals such as Victor Hugo. He won the votes of 55.6 percent of all registered voters, and won in all but four of France’s departments.
We know Gustave Le Gray was invited to take a picture, which was exhibited in
Is it the famous portrait which exist in several copies in major museums’ collections ?
A comment by Lacan: « Tous nos abonnés de Paris ont vu certainement, chez les principaux marchands d’estampes, le portrait du président de la République dont il [Le Gray] a tiré depuis quelque temps un nombre considérable d’exemplaires. C’est un beau portrait d’une grande vigueur et d’un effet artistique très heureux. » (Ernest Lacan, La Lumière, n° 36, 28 août 1852, p. 143.) made some scholars believe that it was shot after the coup d’état, three years later.
Later in the 1854 Niepce de St.-Victor transformed a very similar photographic portrait of Louis Napoleon in a photolithographic print which was exhibited in 1856 at the Manchester Photographic Society.
In any case, when you turn the profile of the Prince President, and compare it with Le Gray’s calotype, it is tempting to believe they were created during the some phographinc session, in late 1848 or early 1849.
We could imagine the two cameras were operating in the same long instant, the daguerrian camera being at the right side of the waxed-paper negative camera. (Waxed-paper process was much faster than calotype and comparable with daguerreotype).
We know at least one more daguerrian portrait of the French Emperor. Probably after 1852.