Henri-Victor Regnault 1810-1878


Regnault was one of the most important early photographers; his works survive at the Manufactory at Sevres and at the SFP. It appears that he made very few prints and that even fewer survive. Many of his works are only known through the survival of paper negatives at the SFP or in poor quality prints. He was essential in spreading calotypy through France and in 1840 was elected member to the Academie des sciences and later tutor of physiques at the College de France.

In June 1841, Jean-Baptiste Biot revealed Talbot's paper negative positive process to the Academie des sciences and bequeathed his remaining last papers to the young Regnault in hopes that his chemistry background might help advance the process. In 1842, the Reverend Calvert Jones wrote to Talbot of having made calotypes in Paris with Regnault and Hippolyte Bayard, and later that year, Talbot was to meet the young scientist himself. After studying Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard's modifications to William Henry Fox Talbot's positive/negative calotype paper process with fellow countryman Biot, Henri-Victor Regnault probably began to photograph around 1847. He photographed landscapes, architecture, portraits, and genre scenes. His interest in photography only truly came to the fore at this later date possibly as a result of his own period of scientific doubt as well as the political unrest of the Second Republic.

A founding member of the Société héliographique in 1851, he also served as the founding president of the Société Française de Photographie in 1854. The SFP has an album of Regnault's works, which include portraits of his colleagues of the Academie des sciences and College de France, images of his family, his wife, and his children. He was most active in 1851-1852 and though he never exhibited in his lifetime, there are over 200 negatives from this period. A chemist and professor of physics, he directed the Sèvres Manufactory from 1852 until 1871 and established a photographic department there. At Sevres, the head of painting was another pioneer of photography, Louis Remy Robert, who was already an accomplished photographer. Subsequently the two men worked closely together, both depicting the surroundings of the factory.

Regnault had a true artistic vision in experimenting with early photography, sensitive to the effects of light in a way that eluded many of his contemporaries. Some of his best landscapes and scenes were reproduced by Blanquart-Evrard in Etudes et paysages and Etudes photographiques also including works by Marville and Louis Robert. He was elected honourable member of the Royal Photographic Society in London in 1855 before which he worked with John Stewart to make pictures of the British countryside in 1853.

In 1855 he was not a founder of the SFP, simply because by this time Regnault had virtually given up photography to support and promote the promising painting career of his son, Alex-Georges-Henri. His son was killed in the Franco-Prussian War, which also destroyed Regnault's laboratory at Sèvres. Still, Regnault was elected president of the SFP demonstrating his honoured status as an amateur early photographer.

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