Of the thousands of photographs in the Catalogue Raisonné, each raises its own questions, some apparently simple, some complex. Why this subject? Why frame it this way? From when does it date? How does it relate to others with a similar subject or approach? But there are some photographs that seem so terribly out of the ordinary that they cry out for their own story. One of the negatives that has puzzled me most over the years is waiting for that exploration. Perhaps some day a reader will be able to construct that narrative and I for one look forward to reading it.
We could give this numerous titles, some editorial, some contemporary, but why don’t we start with one of Lady Elisabeth’s:
M. Claudet & Mension [sic] with a Palette
I am not at all convinced that Henry Talbot took this negative himself, yet it is so tightly woven into his archive that there can be no question that it was one in which he took great interest. This particular print comes from the collection of the late Maurice Sendak. The gentleman at the rear is immediately identifiable as Antoine Claudet, a French-born London-based glass merchant who took to the Daguerreotype as soon as it was announced. He was a universally popular scientist, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and one of Henry Talbot’s closest friends and most ardent supporters. We have mentioned him several times already and he’ll continue to form a central thread of these blogs. We are in a studio setting, cluttered with visual elements ready to be assembled into a suitable background for a particular portrait and these elements pretty much confirm that this is a corner of Claudet’s own studio.
I’m going to take a pass right now on the identity of the gentleman on the left. At the far right, however, is André Léon Larue Mansion (1785-1870), a miniature painter who first established his reputation in Brussels, then became a noted miniaturist on ivory in Paris, and by 1845 had become the chief daguerreotype colourist in London, working not only for Claudet but somehow comfortably for his competitors as well. He was the author of Letters Upon the Art of Miniature Painting (London: Ackermann, n.d.). He is mixing his paints in anticipation of hand-colouring another daguerreotype.
We’ve seen that Lady Elisabeth took a particular interest in this image and happily both her letter and a varnished print are preserved in the superb collection at Chatsworth House:
In transmitting this photograph to her close friend, the Duke, she describes “the figure spreading paint on his palette is a French Painter & very like him, & the figure behind him is an old French man & his very image.” She also goes on to further describe another photograph that we examined recently, the one known as “The Fruitsellers”.
“The domestic scene in the Cloisters at Laycock Abbey might have been more artistically grouped but it shews what pretty tableaux one may have if people would only sit still three seconds, but as they did not it is rather less clear than the others.”
Mansion would play a role in his own photograph as well. Prompted by the market and particularly by his friend, the Rev Calvert R Jones, Talbot was reluctantly experimenting with interfering with Nature’s work by adding hand-colouring.
I have my own thoughts on the merits of this but in order to remain within the bounds of propriety I will allow you to come to your own decision about the addition of colour. Was Mansion one of several colourists who were being auditioned for this task? Quite a few of the hand-coloured salt prints have the initial ‘M’ on verso, sometimes in pencil, sometimes in ink, but Mansion is never spelled out, only a mysterious ‘Martin’ in some places. Right now I have no idea who that might have been.
There is one other possible connection. There is a small negative, probably early and I imagine dating to Henneman’s beginning work at Reading, that Talbot himself listed as “Mansion smoking.”
Whilst uncommon, Mansion is not an unknown surname, but one must wonder if perhaps Henneman was acquainted with André Léon Larue Mansion for some time before the session in Claudet’s studio.
Larry J Schaaf
• Questions or Comments? Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org • Unidentified photographer, M. Claudet & Mension [sic] with a Palette, calotype negative , prior to 7 February 1846, National Media Museum, Bradford, 1937-4309; Schaaf 3774. • Unidentified photographer, M. Claudet & Mension [sic] with a Palette, varnished salted paper print from a calotype negative, prior to 7 February 1846, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Maurice B. Sendak, 2013.159.53; Schaaf 3774. Since this mounted print has a “Patent Talbotype or Sun Pictures label on the verso it was almost certainly sold commercially by Nicolaas Henneman, either at Reading or in London. • Lady Elisabeth Feilding’s title “M. Claudet & Mension [sic] with a Palette” is recorded in a list of prints that she “gave The Duke of Devonshire 7th February 1846”; National Media Museum, Bradford. • Chatsworth Collection, 864-13. • Unidentified photographer, Claudet, Mansion and another man drinking wine, hand-coloured salted paper print from a calotype negative, ca. 1846. Fox Talbot Collection, the British Library, London, LA 1028; Schaaf 3774. • Nicolaas Henneman?, Mansion smoking, digital print from a calotype negative, National Media Museum, 1937-3748; Schaaf 1301. Talbot’s title comes from a list in the NMeM collection, LA45-160, which lists negatives by the relative commercial value that Talbot assigned to them.