The first photograph taken from a negative on glass


Alphonse Louis Poitevin (1819-1882), [Luxembourg Palace and grounds], ca. 1850; plate 42 verso in Richard Willats’s photography album, no date. Graphic Arts collection GA 2005.00262.

In the personal album of amateur London photographer, Richard Willats, is a print depicting the exterior of the Luxembourg Palace and grounds in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. Willat’s inscription reads, “Poitvan’s [sic] - Albumen Process on Glass - Luxemburg - Paris / The first photograph taken from a Negative on Glass / Exhibited by J. & R. Willats Opticians 98 Cheapside, London.”

The photographic use of albumen (egg white) on paper was credited in 1850 to Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard (1802-1872) but at the same time, Alphonse Louis Poitevin (1819-1882) was experimenting with printing from albumen on glass and on stone. The French engineer and inventor, Poitevin is credited with the development of a variety of photomechanical processes, in an attempt to transfer an image from a photographic negative into a permanent ink print.

Writing in 1892, Sylvester Koehler explains Poitevin’s early use of albumen to make photolithographs: “A grained lithographic stone was covered with an albuminous solution mixed with bichromate of potash, and exposed, after it had dried, under a negative. The picture was then developed, i. e., the unchanged albumen was washed away with cold water, and the stone treated with acid and gum as usual.” (Exhibition Illustrating the Technical Methods of the Reproductive Arts).

More recently, Sylvie Aubenas wrote, “In 1855 Poitevin perfected the process of photolithography by coating a lithographic stone with albumen (or, alternatively, gelatin) sensitized with potassium dichromate. In 1857, after attempting unsuccessfully to exploit the process himself, Poitevin sold the rights to the lithographic printer Lemercier.” (Oxford Companion to the Photograph)

Anyone who is interested in Poitevin’s multifaceted career can read his personal notebooks held in the La Bibliothèque nationale de France.