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Can this 1844 daguerreotype be Richard Wagner?

Posted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 12:22 am
by alberich00
Dear members of the discussion forum:

Albert Kaplan has forwarded to me a link to his website where, if you go to the section on Richard Wagner, he has posted a daguerreotype alleged to have been taken of Wagner in March or April of 1844 in Hamburg, Germany, when he was conducting Rienzi there. I am no expert on these things but, having compared this daguerreotype with other early images of Wagner, it seems plausible. I have never seen this before. Wagner would have been 30 years old at the time. If it is authentic, this may well be the earliest known photographic image of Wagner.

Albert Kaplan and I would like some feedback.

Your friend from Wagnerheim,

Paul alias Alberich00

Re: Can this 1844 daguerreotype be Richard Wagner?

Posted: Sun Nov 25, 2012 9:11 pm
by feuerzauber
By coincidence, the current issue of Scientific American [December 2012] has an article on the fragility of daguerreotypes.

Apparently, daguerreotypes are still reactive, to varying degrees, especially to exhibition spotlighting when they are displayed in museums. Strong lighting can re-expose the still-sensitive plates and cloud their precious 150-year-old images.

The proposed solution for conserving daguerreotypes is to re-seal them inside a tight-fitting argon-filled glass case. I draw Mr Kaplan's attention to the Scientific American article, in order to safeguard his precious images.

[The article may be previewed in brief at]

As to the subject's obvious dimple...

It's hard to imagine that this is a "cosmetic" artifact added later on, but not actually in the subject himself.

The delicate chemical process of daguerreotypography described in the Scientific American article almost rules out such embellishment — to my non-chemical mind. Still, those early photographers were remarkably handy. I wonder how a modern expert chemist would evaluate the possibility?

So, I imagine, everything depends on whether Richard did sport a dimple on his chin. If that can't be established, whether his offspring, or ancestors, did.

As yet another element for identifying Richard's paternity... The picture we have of Geyer shows the prominent Wagner-clan chin, but without a dimple, but I know nothing about the heritance of dimples.

It is, of course, possible that Richard, through some sort of vanity, arranged to have his dimple-in-the-chin "air-brushed" out of his photographs, and to have peremptorily declared it out-of-bounds as suitable subject for his painters.

That seems even less credible, especially when we consider the quality of some of his portraitists, Lenbach and Renoir; and the circumstance of some of his portraits, Joukowsky's informal sketch, as it turned out on Richard's 'death bed', where truthfulness would presumably trump any imagined suppression by the subject.

So I assume everything depends on the authenticity of the chin dimple in the daguerreotype. Wouldn't we love this to be the image of the 30-year-old composer, sporting a most fetching dimple that's never referred to in the voluminous accounts of the man?

Or, just maybe, we've overlooked the vital reference to the Wagnerian dimple-in-the-chin.

Re: Can this 1844 daguerreotype be Richard Wagner?

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 12:36 pm
by albertkaplan
The dimple is clear. No question about it. And, it is also evident that in known photographic images of Wagner there is no dimple. I think the answer rests in 19th Century photography. As simplistic as it may seem, in my opinion that is the whole story.

If the viewer will go the website he will see a painting and a drawing of Wagner, in both of which there is slight evidence of a dimple.

Albert Kaplan

Re: Can this 1844 daguerreotype be Richard Wagner?

Posted: Tue Dec 04, 2012 8:04 pm
by feuerzauber
I think the answer rests in 19th Century photography.
If so, non-destructive chemical analysis could determine the composition of the dimple — whether it is a consciously-added pigment.

On the other hand, if the dimple was consciously-added sitter's make-up, or if it is an [unconsciously-added] artefact of the Daguerreotype process, the sitter's identity would seem to remain forever in the realm of probability. It could then only be settled by provenance clues and/or by documentary evidence hunted down by a dedicated Wagner scholar skilled in sifting through such things.

For us non-experts on Mr Kaplin's glorious passion, there's a truly-beautiful video for us to savour from George Eastman House

Apart from the intimate imagery of lost times, what struck me was the unexpected commercial openness of lost times. The French Government, still inspired by traces of the grand "natural right" of le peuple, trumped the narrower "natural right" of the inventor to his own invention that was also inscribed during the Revolution, and placed the stunning technology of Daguerreotype imagery in the public domain for the benefit of all mankind. Inspiring, in a lost way, really.

Re: Can this 1844 daguerreotype be Richard Wagner?

Posted: Fri Dec 07, 2012 6:05 am
by albertkaplan
The vicissitudes of 19th Century photography need be recognized. We are not dealing with 21st Century or 20th Century photography. It seems to me that Rudolph Turnau captured the dimple while the later photographers did not. That is understandable, and not surprising.

Re: Can this 1844 daguerreotype be Richard Wagner?

Posted: Fri Dec 07, 2012 4:40 pm
by feuerzauber
Albert, thank you. I now understand your point, although it took me a while.

I apologize for any mis-directing of discussion, after you have done everything possible to clearly present [circumstantial] evidence for the subject being Richard Wagner. I blush when I consider my amateurish add-nothing post after re-reading your expert web-site account based on "recognized world authority of early photography, conservator Grant Romer, performed the examination".

Re: Can this 1844 daguerreotype be Richard Wagner?

Posted: Sat Dec 08, 2012 5:47 am
by albertkaplan
By the way, it seems that there is not even one early photography conservator in Germany.

I have asked my webmaster to add some text. He will likely do so by December 12th. The new text itemizes the forensic similiarities whereby the viewer is directed to reference points.

Re: Can this 1844 daguerreotype be Richard Wagner?

Posted: Tue Dec 18, 2012 7:22 pm
by feuerzauber
Albert Kaplan's Richard Wagner page has now been updated: ... rd-wagner/.

Albert attributes the presence of the dimple in the direct daguerreotype plate and its absence from the indirect negative-plate + positive-print photography that succeeded it to the uncompromising optical-superiority of the former process over its 19th-century successors.

This is an intriguing, and surprising [for me], twist. The history of photography is replete with examples of superior technologies being displaced by more-viable commercial processes — the most celebrated case of recent memory being Beta by VHS.

Re: Can this 1844 daguerreotype be Richard Wagner?

Posted: Thu Dec 20, 2012 7:54 am
by albertkaplan
I recall a conversation between two conservators at the George Eastman House. One said, ""The daguerreotype is the Rolls Royce of photographs."" A few minutes later he said, ""I prefer to say that the Rolls Royce is the daguerreotype of automobiles.""

Of course, it depends on the daguerreotype. For instance, each time I have opened the Lincoln daguerreotype it seems to me that I am transported to that time and place, that I am in the room with young Abraham Lincoln. Such is its clarity.

Closely related is the fact that photographic prints of a daguerreotye plate oftentimes cannot pick up detail seen on the plate. In the Questions and Comments section of the reader can find an exaample of this phenomena attested by two leading forensic scientists who examined the Lincoln daguerreotype.

I suppose the basis of the daguerreotype's superiority is that silver is the best reflector, and the daguerreotype plate is covered in highly polished silver.

Re: Can this 1844 daguerreotype be Richard Wagner?

Posted: Fri Dec 21, 2012 5:39 am
by albertkaplan
Mr. Feuerzauber, you mentioned that the French government made a gift to the world of the invention of photography. Yes, it is correct. As I understand it, Daguerre's work came quickly to the attention of the government leadership who recongnized its importance, and pursuaded M. Daguerre to withdraw his patent application so that France could offer the invention to the whole world as a gift from France. M. Daguerre agreed, and received from the government, many thousands of francs pension, a magnificent villa, and most importantly to M. Daguerre, immmediate membership in the French Acadamy of Science. He gave his lecture at the French Academy of Science in 1839. I forget the month. In the audience was the great American portrait artist, Samuel F. B. Morse, known today for his Morse code. He went bananas over the invention; it changed his life. Morse arrived in Boston late in December, and with him photography arrived on these shores. He had received personal instruction and apparatus from M. Daguerre.