38 Thèbes Louqsor Unknown

"Wonderful public album ‘using the combined resources of typography and photography’. ‘Having the serious shortcoming of not lasting’, Auguste Edouard Mariette had obtained from Moures, editor of the Cairo Museum, a commitment that his photographs would be reproduced by "inalterable processes". The process chosen by Goupil is flatbed etching, a kind of "photographic etching", printed in intaglio. This process, invented by Niepce and Talbot, has never ceased to be improved, but with the present collection the heliographic technique has reached its peak. The depth of the blacks, the pattern of the grays and the precision of the details are qualities that can no longer be exceeded." [1]

Despite having as its principal aim the visual documentation of ruins, there is little doubt that the photographer’s refine sense of composition and Goupil’s sumptuous heliogravure plates were also intended to present photographic book illustrations as art rather than merely documentation. First published in 1878, this work preceded by many years the supposedly groundbreaking efforts to utilize photogravure as fine art plates by Emerson and Stieglitz during the 1890s and early 1900s.

Mariette was an Egyptologist and archaeologist for whom ”photography became an inseparable part of his activity. He mainly employed professional photographers such as Delie, Bechard, and Brugsch, but he himself also photographed, using an 8 x 19 inch camera, newly found artifacts and ancient structures in remote parts of the Egyptian desert." [2]

He was sent to Egypt by the Louvre in 1850 to obtain Coptic manuscripts for the museum’s collections. Failing in this task, he instead led excavations at Saqqara, Giza, and Thebes and rediscovered the Serapeum. Later, as director of ancient monuments in Egypt and curator of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, he began the enormous task of conserving the antiquities of Egypt and curtailing the wide-spread exportation of cultural objects.

“Goupil Gravure” is perhaps the most beautiful photogravure process ever practiced. It predates Klic. It’s origins are a bit of a mystery. Woodbury claimed it was from his idea. Swan claimed it was his father’s photo-mezzotint process. The plate is produced from an electrotype of a colloidal surface. Rousselon stated in 1872, “Our process is founded on the discovery of a chemical substance which crystallizes under the influence of light, the crystals becoming larger the longer they are exposed to it. After exposure it only remains to make a deposit of copper, by means of the electric battery, on the crystalline surface, and thus a plate is obtained yielding proofs in which every detail and gradation of tone is faithfully reproduced.” According to Eder this could take weeks. According to an article in the Catalogue of the Exhibit of the American Book Trade for the Exposition Universelle Paris, 1889 (pg. 15), Rousselon learned the woodburytype process from Mr. Louis Husson, who worked for Woodbury in 1871. Rousselon went on to perfect his system of photogravure in 1872. The Goupil family eventually retired in 1884 and the company became Boussod, Valadon & Cie. It should be noted that Peter Henry Emerson remarked that he did not like that Goupil and Dujardin retouched their plates. [3]

Reproduced / Exhibited

[1] Photographie II Collection Marie-Thérese et André Jammes Paris 21 March 2002 Lot 174


[2] Perez, Focus East, early photography in the Near East, 1988, p.194

[3] Hanson, David Checklist of photomechanical processes and printing 1825-1910, 2017 p,. 121 see Russelon