04.07.2019 The Second Permanent Secretary, or Light and Birth of an Invention at the French Academy of Sciences

Since the foundation in 1666, the members of the French Academy of sciences have been called “Immortels”, and the secretaries “Perpetuels”. During the entirety of 19th century there were two permanent secretaries managing the “seances”. In the year of the announcement of the invention of photography, in 1839, one perpetuel was the famous François Arago who announced the first complete practical photographic process at a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences, on 7 January 1839 and followed all the first public developments.

Earlier in the century, the main dispute in the Academy and also in all of the scientific community was about the classical particle and wave theories of light. François Arago had been a fierce supporter in the 1810s of the wave view, against the ray and particle view, but this opinion began to dominate scientific thinking about light only in the mid 19th century. Among his friends, Alexander von Humboldt was on the same side, while Jean-Baptiste Biot was then on the opposite side following Laplace. It is interesting to note than when Daguerre visited Arago on late 1838, the Perpetuel sat down with both Humboldt and Biot to evaluate the invention. The same scholars who had argued about the theory of light 30 years before were now gathering to study together its effects and persistent shadows on a polished silver mirror.

The other Perpetuel was Pierre Flourens, a physiologist who proved that the mind was located in the brain, not the heart, through the study of ablations on numerous animals, and who also was a pioneer in anesthesia. Pierre and François worked together for twenty years as François was permanent secretary, maths section, betwen 1830 and 1853, when Pierre was between 1833 and 1868. And when Arago passed away, Flourens took over the various presentations of improvement in the field of scientific photography (10 October 1853: about Delessert’s Portfolio of reproductions of Marc-Antoine Raimondi’s engravings, 9 January 1854: Lithophographie ou impressions sur pierre obtenues à l’aide de la photographie by Lemercier, Lerebours, Barreswill & Davanne, 14 April 1856: presentation of Van Monckoven’s Traité général de Photographie…).

At the some moment in 1848, Pierre Flourens had to choose an artist to create a portrait of his three children, three sons. His choice went to Philibert Derussy (1814-1894), 3 rue des Prouvaires, corner of 83 rue saint-Honoré. This operator is little known today and his name and dates are even difficult to find out. Nevertheless Derussy was among the first group of only five photographers to receive a prize (a mention) in the first public photography exhibition ! Together with Sabatier-Blot, Bourquin, Claudet and Bisson, see article here : la première exposition de photographie de l’histoire : Champs-Élysées, Mai-Juin 1844. Derussy desapeared as a daguerreian artist in 1851. Was he a Republican, as Flourens was, then he could have followed a large number of artists who closed their activities after the Bonaparte Coup d’Etat. The first association Société Héliographique also suspended its activities, and the photographic Journal “La Lumière” had a long interuption.

We can observe the absence of paper frame or passe-partout. We can also observe

We can also observe the very dark color of the wooden frame. Before the 1848 revolution, most daguerrian portrait had a white paper and often a light wooden of paper frame. White was the French royal color.

The plate is not signed and the name of Derussy was hard to find through the modest remains of a printed label, verso.

The quality of the 1/4 plate image (111×83 mm) illustrates the excellent comments of the 1844 Jury de l’exposition, confirmed in 1849.

The hand probably belongs to the father. The three sons became famous.

The younger Abel Flourens (1845-1918) wrote an interesting thesis on artist’s rights: Droit romain : de “ad exhibendum actione”. Droit français : Origine et développement en France de la législation sur les droits d’auteur… (article en préparation).

The second Emile Flourens (1841-1920) was an influencial Minister of Foreign Affairs during the Third Republic. He criticized the Permanent Court of Arbitration and critiqued the premise on which the League of Nations and the World Court were founded, and advocated that international law ought to remain arbitral, rather than judicial, in its execution.

The elder Gustave Flourens (1838-1871) was a very young professor at College de France before becoming at 33 a French Revolutionary leader and writer, a central character of the Paris Commune (article en préparation).

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