First published in the quarterly journal History of Photography, Autumn 1993 (Vol 17, No.3, pp. 284-295), this online version appears with the kind permission of Taylor & Francis Group, London
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Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851), originally a stage designer and scene painter (1), in April 1821 formed a partnership with Charles Bouton (1781-1853) to develop a Diorama in Paris. As Helmut and Alison Gernsheim have said in their account of the Diorama in L. J. M. Daguerre: The history of the Diorama and the Daguerreotype, it was an ideal collaboration, each gaining much from the others experience. Bouton was the more experienced and distinguished painter, Daguerre the greater expert in lighting and scenic effects. (2)
Daguerre's aim was to produce naturalistic illusion for the public. Huge pictures, 70 x 45 feet in size, were painted on translucent material with a painting on each side. By elaborate lighting - the front picture could be seen by direct reflected light, while varied amounts and colours of light transmitted from the back revealed parts of the rear painting - the picture could imitate aspects of nature as presented to our sight with all the changes brought by time, wind, light, atmosphere. (3)
By light manipulation on and through a flat surface the spectators could be convinced they were seeing a life-size three dimensional scene changing with time - in part a painters 3-D cinema. To display such dioramas with the various contrivances required to control the direction and colour of the light from many high windows and sky-lights, as well as a rotating amphitheatre holding up to 360 people, a large specialist building was required.
The Diorama opened in Paris in July 1822. The show consisted of two paintings, one by Daguerre and one by Bouton. This was the pattern throughout the 1820s with one of the dioramas showing an interior, the other a landscape. One picture of the pair was changed after about seven months . During the first four years twelve pictures were exhibited in Paris. They included Valley of Sarnen, Harbour of Brest, Holyroodhouse Chapel, and Roslin Chapel by Daguerre; Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral, Chartres Cathedral, City of Rouen, and Environs of Paris, by Bouton (see chart of early dioramas on following page); the sole example of a work by the two men in collaboration (View of Ste Marie in Spain showing a meeting of the Royal family) was displayed only in Paris. (4)
Plans for a Diorama in London were set in motion at the beginning of 1823. Taking only four months to finish the building in the centre of John Nash's facade along the east side of Park Square at the south-east corner of Regent's Park, it was opened in September 1823. (5).
Contemporary Illustrations and texts
Thomas Shepherd's Coloured plate of East side of Park Square,
A black and white engraving of the above appeared in Metropolitan Improvements or London in the Nineteenth Century… From Original Drawings by Thomas H. Shepherd with Historical, Topographical & Critical Illustrations by James Elmes, London: published April 11, 1829, by Jones & Co;.
On pp. 80-81 of Metropolitan Improvements, Elmes provides his own account of the Diorama building in Park Square, Regent's Park, London. The full text is available on another page HERE
Diorama, Regent's Park, London, 1823
Many years later John Timbs wrote, for the benefit of visitors to London in 1855, an item on the 'Diorama and Cosmorama':
The Diorama, on the eastern side of Park-square, Regent's-park, was exhibited in Paris long before it was brought to London, by its originators, MM. Bouton and Daguerre; the latter, the inventor of the Daguerréotype, died 1851. The exhibition-house, with the theatre in the rear; was designed by Morgan and Pugin: the spectatory had a circular ceiling, with transparent medallion portraits; the whole was built in four months, and cost £10,000. The Diorama consisted of two pictures, eighty feet in length and forty feet in height, painted in solid and in transparency, arranged so as to exhibit changes of light and shade, and a variety of natural phenomena; the spectators being kept in comparative darkness, while the picture received a concentrated light from a ground-glass roof.
Extract from John Timbs, Diorama and Cosmorama, in Curiosities of London, London: David Bogue 1855, pp.252-3. The full article is available HERE
Daguerre's wife, Louise-Georgina, was of an English family who at some time were Smith but, in these years when the Diorama began, were known as Arrowsmith. The history of the Diorama would be considerably advanced if more reliable information about that family could be found. (6) One of Madame Daguerre's brothers assisted Daguerre during the first months of the Diorama in Paris and the evidence is confused as to whether it was Charles (7) or John Arrowsmith who early in 1823 was in London to help organise the Diorama. An Arrowsmith met John Constable at this time and buying some of Constable's paintings made them well known in Paris. (8)
Charles Bouton also went to London on a least one occasion when the first program was replaced in August 1824, (9) but the management situation during the first seven years of the London Diorama was very different to the later period when Bouton moved permanently to England: so it was probably the Arrowsmith brothers who were most closely involved in transporting and setting up the dioramas for the English proprietors in the first few years, as a patent for the Diorama was obtained in England under the name of John Arrowsmith. (10)
The Patent Specification: Illustrations and texts
John Arrowsmith's Diorama Patent, British Patent No. 4899, February 10, 1824
An improved mode of publicly exhibiting pictures on painted scenery of every description, and of distributing or directing the daylight upon or through them so as to produce many effects of light and shade, which I denominate a "Diorama". [The Complete Specification is proved on another Page]
Earliest publication of John Arrowsmith's Diorama Patent, British Patent No. 4899
The Repertory of Arts, Manufactures and Agriculture (which the following year was renamed The Repertory of Patent Inventions), was the semi-official place where many Patents were first published throughout the 1820s and 30s.
Transverse section of John Arrowsmith's Diorama in London
also a plan that shows the adjacent entrance rooms:
'Diorama, Park Square, Regents Park: Plan of the Principal Story' 1823
John Arrowsmith's Diorama, 1823
The title of the patent was not sealed until 10 February 1824, four months after the opening of the London Diorama. The title was granted with a common proviso that a Specification be enrolled within six months. Normally patentees delayed the preparation of the specification for the full period as it gave them a chance to incorporate work done during that time, but with this patent Arrowsmith very unusually signed the specification only eight days later and it was enrolled on 16 March, only twenty-five days after the title. (11) The nature of the Diorama - combining skill in painting huge pictures with elaborate stage mechanisms and lighting - is not the type of enterprise that needs patent protection more relevant to single manufactured articles.
A patent Title provided immediate commercial protection, but sale of contracts would need to wait for a Specification. Why should a patent have been obtained at this time in this way: delayed, then seemingly unnecessarily hurried? The problems of either storage or transport of these huge pictures would have been severe even when rolled-up. But it obviously made sense to be able either to transfer the pictures from Paris onto another building in London,or to sell them,and the same reasoning can be applied to lengthening their life after a season in London. The main problem would be the very high cost of new purpose-built Dioramas. Such third stage activity in getting the dioramas before wider audiences is obviously not something in which Daguerre would choose to be closely envolved.
At a time of widespread social deprivation the economic situation was very unsettled: a depressed market in the late 1820s, there was also, particularly in the few years before 1825, a glut of capital. What reason would there have been for a patent unless to be part of a commercial contract sought from men of capital to exploit the dioramas elsewhere after the end of a season in London? The promptness with which the Diorama specification was enrolled suggests that potential licencees were waiting to negotiate. As we will see later, the London Diorama seems to have had an independent English proprietor in the 1820s.
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Edinburgh, January 1825
Later it will be seen that an authentic Diorama building was erected in Lothian Road, Edinburgh, at the end of 1827. But there had also been an event almost three years earlier regarding an exhibition of a 'diorama' painting in Edinburgh that was not part of that venture to bring Daguerre's work to Great Britain.
When pictures were hung for the annual Modern Art exhibition (12) of the Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland (13) ready for its opening day at the begining of March 1825 at 24 Waterloo Place in Edinburgh, they took the place of a 'diorama from London'. Its title was 'Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral' and had been on view for a month, until 19 February. (14) It was the same title as Bouton's diorama that had been at the London Diorama until the previous August and was the tableax for the opening show (note the exact date) at a new building in Liverpool on Monday 21 February 1825! (15)
It would be difficult, assuming we only had knowledge of these dates,to see how that picture exhibited in Edinburgh could be the same as Bouton's diorama opening in Liverpool two days later. Indeed there is evidence that the diorama in Edinburgh was not produced in France: "this picture is painted, in part, by a native of this city". It was certainly a large painting, but although it was exhibited in the largest of the rooms at the Waterloo Place galleries it is difficult to see how it could have approached the 80 by 50 feet of Bouton's diorama. It surely must have been exhibited simply as a painting without the various contrivances required to produce the dioramic lighting effects and illusions. A somewhat partisan reviewer in the Caledonian Mercury (16) provides a report requiring our attention:
We regret, as this picture is painted, in part, by a native of this city, that, from its extraordinary size, it cannot form part of the National Exhibition, as it would have shone conspicuously among the many brilliant efforts of native talent which we hope to see displayed...And we are glad to find although it has not to boast of the borrowed name of a French artist to procure it visitors, that its own merits and distinguished reputation have ensured its success; and we understand, such is the stimulus given to this young artist, that he is engaged in bringing out, shortly, a View of Holyrood Chapel by Moonlight, and the Interior of Rosslyn Chapel; for the exhibition of which an appropriate building will be erected.
So do we have a British young artist who had not only already produced a work copying Bouton's , but was planning to paint another two that were Daguerre's and still at that time in Paris? Or when the reviewer reported that this young artist was engaged in bringing out Holywood Chapel and Rosslyn Chapel had he perhaps misunderstood an intention not to paint but to organise the bringing over to England of those most recent dioramas? Several years later an authentic Diorama building was opened in Lothian Road, Edinburgh. When at the end of August 1831 they exhibited there the diorama care was taken to state in their advertisements that it was never before exhibited in Edinburgh. (17)
No evidence is available for the identity of the native of this city who had painted, in part, the diorama of January 1825 titled Trinity Chapel, and who seems to have been planning to later paint dioramas showing Holyrood Chapel and Rosslyn Chapel. However, after first considering an even more significant episode that took place later in 1825, it will be seen that the then scene painter David Roberts, born in Edinburgh in 1796, is a possible candidate. A second episode again concerns rivalry with the proprietors of the London Diorama. Although it is a source of some confusion, a resolution of its contradictions could ultimately lead to a re-orientation of knowledge about the relationship of the Diorama in England with Daguerre and Bouton in Paris.
Bristol Fair of September 1825
Bristol was well known for an annual Fair of trade and entertainment held for about 2 weeks starting every 1 September. That month in 1825 a Diorama exhibition took place. Advertisements in two local Bristol newspapers (18), referred to the exhibition of a pair of dioramas for a short time in a spacious building purposely erected in St. James's Church Yards ... with a turning saloon as at the Regent's Park, London. The two dioramas were Interior of Canterbury Cathedral and Ruins of Holyrood. However the artist of this Holyrood was not Daguerre but clearly stated to have been Clarkson Stanfield. (19)
Indeed, Daguerre's diorama of Holyrood Chapel was still on exhibition in London in September 1825. After transfer to Liverpool and Manchester during the next two years, it was put up for auction in Manchester in December 1827 before then appearing at the Dioramas in Dublin and Edinburgh. Stanfield was in a position to have painted actually at Holyrood in Edinburgh, while there is no evidence [but see comment and note 9 of the accompanying web page of the author's later article on the Diorama in Paris] that Daguerre ever visited either Scotland or England. It can be a reasonable assumption (it was not precisely identified otherwise) that the other Bristol picture showing 'Canterbury Cathedral' was also by Stanfield. Bouton's diorama of 'Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral', was certainly on display in Liverpool during September 1825.
The 'Diorama' at Bristol was not intended to be permanent, for several reports referred to the building as temporary. (20) The exhibition in Bristol was continued for a few weeks after the Fair closed, but without extending much into November. The venture must have been an imitation rival show cashing in on the reputation of the authentic Diorama in London and Paris. It would not be easy in a temporary building for only a short season to provide true dioramic lighting effects - what type of 'temporary' construction would be a 'spacious building, built expressly', requiring darkness for the audience but with complicated daylight lighting arrangements for two dioramas? One advertisement close to the end of the exhibition even said the opening hours in October included 'Evenings, from 7 till 9': difficult to reconcile with the lighting requirements for dioramas.
The administrators of the London Diorama at some time placed an objection to the show. No doubt they believed it was contrary to their Diorama patent and indeed the objection is very understandable when we recall that advertisements for the Bristol show were for pictures of the same title as Daguerre and Bouton's productions as well as specifying the use of 'a turning saloon, as at the Regent's Park, London'. A response in the Bristol Mercury to the objection is most revealing: (21)
The Foreign Artists who introduced the Diorama into this country seem to have entertained an erroneous idea of the nature of the protection which our laws would afford them...- the credit of being the original inventors was not enough to gratify their cupidity, and their ambition; but they would restrain the talents of our native artists,under the ridiculous pretence of copying their pictures...The foreigners, who have reaped already so abundant an harvest from the curiousity of John Bull, have had the presumption to apply for an injunction against the proprietors of the Diorama now exhibiting in Bristol; that they failed must be a source of congratulation to the admirers and patrons of Bristol talents; but the proprietors of the Bristol Diorama have the greatest cause to triumph, as the very attempt was an unwilling homage to the very superior claims of their beautiful pictures... we understand it will close next week.
Thus the situation of this rival Diorama might seem reasonably clear. Yet, because the episode at the Bristol fair also has some contradictory aspects, a complete understanding of the event has not been reached. Not only is it difficult to reconcile the nature of a temporary building with the demands of complicated lighting and the use of a rotating amphitheatre, but there is one intriguing consideration to be made due to the appearance of an advertisement in the Bristol newspapers in August 1825 the week before the Diorama there was first advertised:
The Misses GIROUX, having returned from the Continent ... announce ... that their ACADEMIES in Bath, Bristol and Clifton, have now re-opened...Tuesdays, at Miss C. Giroux's, 43, Queen-square, Bristol; and Wednesdays and Saturdays, at Miss GIROUX's, 14, George-street, Bath, Schools and Private Families attended as usual. (22)
The Miss Girouxs were teachers of 'dancing and calisthenic excercises' in Bristol and Bath. Although the earliest date that the Girouxs had been in the area is not known, their dancing academy was definitely of five years standing by 1825 and the family were certainly established in Bristol as Cecilia Giroux lived in Queen Square for at least twenty five years. (23) But where in 1825 had they recently been 'on the Continent' and could it only be a coincidence that they arrived back in Bristol about the same time as the Diorama? Could they have come back from Paris where lived Alphonse Giroux, a relative of Daguerre's wife?
At the end of the following decade Alphonse Giroux had a contract with Daguerre for the production and sale of Daguerreotype cameras and processing equipment, so is it possible that episode (24) in the history of photography had a prior run for Giroux with regard to the Diorama in England? If Giroux and his family were involved in the venture in Bristol he could have been engaged - even with Daguerre's knowledge - in an attempt to side-step the English proprietor of the London Diorama. But on display was not Daguerre's work but original or copy dioramas painted by Stanfield!
Such a counterpart Diorama, organised directly from Paris in competition with the London Proprietors, might have proved successful if the apparent use of a rotating saloon had been forgone: for it is that feature which provides a significant part of the English Diorama Patent. Indeed, consideration of patent law might suggest another reason why a rotating saloon Diorama could have been temporarily in Bristol. The Diorama patent obtained in February 1824 was truly an English patent: ie.it did not apply to Scotland or Ireland. So, if Giroux was involved, then it is not inconceivable the port of Bristol could have been a stage on the way to (say) Dublin, with a temporary exhibition there due to family links with the area. Yet how can the use of Stanfield's pictures and the xenophobic remarks in the local newspaper be reconciled with a Giroux connection?
Perhaps some inconsistency of evidence about the Bristol Fair venture should not be taken too seriously because statements made then were merely showman's hyperbole. It will be observed that the consequence of supposing Alphonse Giroux was somehow involved makes the situation extremely confused - we must need to put aside the advertisement for the dancing Girouxs of Bristol and pretend that Occam's Razor applies to historical studies. So, in the end, our present knowledge has to point to the Bristol venture as a rival to the London Diorama with the involment of Clarkson Stanfield, and that it was organised in England.
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Diorama Management and scene painters
The Diorama was patented in England at the beginning of 1824. But compared with, say, the manufacture of a self acting watercloset, it is not the type of subject that forms a natural patent. The patentee's (25) description was 'an improved mode of publicly exhibiting pictures on painted scenery of every description, and of distributing or directing the daylight upon or through them so as to produce many effects of light and shade'. Unless an English branch of the Arrowsmith family kept active control (which is not very likely) then the managers of the authentic Dioramas in England must have either purchased the patent outright or one or several licences were obtained.
Just as the word diorama can apply to both a building and a picture, can it be clear to us now,and was it clear at first to the purchaser and to the non-purchasers then, as to the boundary of the rights provided by the patent? It must have been essentially concerned with design of the building, the use of a rotating salon, and the contrivances used to control direction and colour of the light. The scene painting aspect is not so clear. Maybe a contract to use Daguerre and Bouton's paintings would be a requirement from the patentee, or it would be cheaper and easier to use those well publicised dioramas from France rather than have new ones painted in Great Britain.
It is also necessary to remember that the situation was different in Dublin and Edinburgh as the patent obtained by John Arrowsnith in 1824 did not apply out of England. Certainly the existence of a patent would not be alien to managers in England as it might be to the temperament of the painters and indeed with regard to the production of the picture the patent was unclear. Scene painters were using similar techniques (if not so large or elaborate in control of lighting changes) at theatres in London. They were providing scenic illusion familar to London audiences since earlier masters such as Loutherbourg. No names of people involved in 1825 in the officlal or imitation dioramas of 1825 have been discovered, except 'Mr. Stanfield, whose distinguished talents stand unrivalled', as the painter of the diorama displayed at the Bristol venture in September 1825.
The Diorama was rather like a theatre without actors. So the people involved in the imitation dioramas in Edinburgh and Bristol would on the one hand have been Gallery or theatre managers, and on the other; scene painters. Although they both later went on to illustrious Fine Art careers , both Clarkson Stanfield (1793-1867) (26) and David Roberts (1796-1864) (27) in their early years, like Daguerre, were predominately theatre scene painters. Although there is some reason to bear in mind that Stanfield may not necessarily have been the only scene painter from London (28) involved in the preparation of both dioramas displayed at Bristol, even if he had not been named his other known activities would have made him a suspect.
1825 is the year of significance in the present part of this study and so it is unfortunate that this period in the lives of both Stanfield and Roberts particularly lacks documentation. (29) Only a few months after the Bristol Fair Stanfield was also presenting a Poecilorama exhibition in London (30) in which the picture 'although small like those of the Cosmorama' did have 'similar contrivances to those used at the Diorama'.
The episode in Bristol in September is quite likely to have been an early stage of Stanfield's (and Roberts') work for the British Diorama (31) set up in London in 1828 at the Queen's Bazaar, Oxford Street, in competition with the authentic one in Regent's Park. It is not known how it came about that the British Diorama had that particular name, but, apart from the usual general xenophobia, anti-French feeling was very prevalent at this period after the Napoleonic wars, and the Society of British Artists, (32) with whom Stanfield and Roberts also became involved had first opened its doors in Suffolk Street in 1824.
Clarkson Stanfield had a considerable experience, like Daguerre, in producing scenic effects in the theatre and no doubt would find it difficult to accept that Daguerre's Dioramic effects should be an exclusive right. What is surprising is that Stanfield did produce a diorama at Bristol apparently copying Bouton's diorama of Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral and Daguerre's Holyrood Chapel, and that an Edinburgh artist (maybe Roberts) was also in January 1825 involved in painting dioramas of the same name as those done in Paris. Could it have been that Stanfield and Roberts had early on been officially commissioned to produce copies rather than bring the originals over from Paris?
But approaching the gap in our knowledge from the opposite direction, perhaps we should wonder how is it that three of Daguerre's dioramas featured Edinburgh scenes? When he was an émigré, the French King Charles X had lived at Holyroodhouse, and indeed had honoured Daguerre specifically for his easil painting of Holyrood Chapel. (33) Yet there is no evidence that Daguerre ever went to Scotland. He must have copied the Edinburgh scenes from the work of other artists or engravers: it would be interesting to find out if such work had ever been done by the lithographer J. Hall (later manager of the Edinburgh Diorama).
Few painters would consider producing an easil painting as a copy of such work by another artist, but theatre scenery would quite legitimately be produced from publicly available images of the world, which at that time consisted of paintings, drawings and engravings only. No place can be out of bounds to all other artists because one painted it first, but painting the same scene and copying another persons painting are different activities. Both Stanfield and Roberts painted from the actual Edinburgh landscape. They did paintings of Holyrood Chapel so why should they not feel they could not do dioramas of those subjects?
Even so they could certainly be accused to taking advantage of the publicity obtained by Daguerre's dioramas. What else would it be but deceit to pretend their productions were supposed to be original diorama by another person. The fact that the dioramas shown in Edinburgh and in Bristol in 1825 had the same titles as Daguerre and Bouton's dioramas is certainly difficult to comprehend other than as deliberate copies with intent to cash in on the work from Paris. Daguerre did have a special obsession and a special talent not shared by Stanfield or Roberts to offer: a command of the ways of light.
Any reader of the above will no doubt be clear about just one thing: there are huge gaps in our understanding of the organisation of these rival Dioramas in Great Britain. But although the gaps and problems are dominate, it is now possible to have some ideas regarding the direction further work on the subject needs to take. Although evidence regarding the involvement of Clarkson Stanfield is extremely small, and regarding David Roberts non-existent!, and although it is an involvement in rivalry with the Daguerre's Diorama in Great Britain, this writer believes that for the purposes of research an exploration of Stanfield, and to a lesser extent Roberts, could prove rewarding.
The events in Edinburgh in the January and especially in the September of 1825 in Bristol, inspite of being rival events to the authentic Diorama, have many odd aspects. and to solve some of their problems could in an oblique way open up fuller understanding of the fresh information we shall now see about the way Daguerre and Bouton's authentic Diorama was brought to Great Britain. For Daguerre's skills with light - described later by a reviewer in The Times as more like the illusions of enchantment than the mere creations of art (34) were experienced by a wider public outside Paris and London. Indeed Daguerre's dioramas were able to move on to Dublin and Edinburgh as well as to two places in England (35) where such moments of wonder would surely not have been in ample supply: to the fast-growing Manchester and Liverpool of the late 1820s.
Continue to Part II of this essay
correspondence during the 1990s
with other researchers of problem issues encounted during research.
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