Artist’s fault! Alfred Davinion.


Artist’s fault! Alfred Davinion.

By the middle of the nineteenth century photography was invented in Europe. To be honest, the quality level of the first artworks could hardly be called good, that was the reason the daguerreotype shots were sent to artists to finish them off. The artists retouched the photos – they added shade or light, limited the imperfections and sometimes added some details.

By the end of autumn 1841 French Alfred Davinion and his partner Fauconnier open the first photography studio on Nikolskaya Street in Saint Petersburg. In the beginning people were not eager to pay for such kind of entertainment on the account that the price was quite high. And then the owners used a marketing trick, as we would call it now, gathering all their heavy equipment, they took part in the yearly military parade.

The speed of photo-shooting was extremely low, that was the reason they made only a few photographs. The original daguerreotypes were retouched by the best artists, but even they needed three days for that. Davinion himself singled out one of the photos and then ask a general who was received at the palace, with the help of a huge bribe, to show the photo to the emperor. The general stuck to his word.

  • Here, you highness, look at the newest invention in Russia – daguerreotype!

Nikolai Pavlovich got interested and started to examine the photo with a huge lens and after a moment he exclaimed with anger shocking the people around:

  • Do you mean, General, that people see me like that?! That it was me present at the parade?!
  • Of course, your highness.. – The general was shocked. –Yes, here you can be seen on the photograph..
  • I can see it myself! And now look through the lens! Look at the forth soldier in the third raw.
  • Yes, your highness, – muttered the general, – I can see him..
  • And what do you see?! – Roared Nikolai I. – the soldier’s helmet is bent, can you see that? That is impossible!

Naturally, the general made his way directly to Davinion and Fauconnier with his claims.

  • What have you done?! – He was in rage. – How did you show me in front of the emperor?!

The two French couldn’t understand at once what the reason of scandal was. But when everything cleared out, they called the artist who retouched the photograph.

  • Listen, dear friend! Can you see here that the helmet of one of the soldier is bent..
  • I left it as it was put on, – answered the artists melancholically. – I didn’t make any retouching at that area.

The poor general was lost his hope. But Davinion found a good way out again:

  • Listen, dear friend, – explained the photographer to the artist ingratiatingly. – Nobody has any doubts about your skills. But the question takes political turn. This is the reason I ask you, if needed, say that it was a sudden mistake of yours.

Saying those words, Davinion put a huge sum of money into the artist’s pocket.

  • Everybody can make mistakes, can’t they? – He added.
  • As you say, – the artist agreed. – Probably, that was my mistake..
  • Here the problem is solved, General, – said Davinion when the artist was gone. – inform the Emperor that it was the artist who made the mistake and that he was dismissed with shame. With that news the general left for the palace.
  • Your highness! – reported the general. – Everything cleared up! The helmet was put on strait! It was the artist’s fault, he, creep, made that mistake!
  • What did I say? –exclaimed Nikolai Pavlovich and threw the daguerreotype to the table. – I saw it with my own eyes!

It should be mentioned that the emperor was right supposing Davinion to be an enemy of fatherland. Later the artist traveled to Siberia, where he made portraits of Decembrists who had been sent away. He was arrested for that but the investigation committee didn’t find any evil intention. The artist was released with a written undertaking not to leave. Davinion never made portraits of government enemies again; he came back to France in 1947.