Le Neubourg: Oldest photograph of the town repatriated to Eure

Before being auctioned by Millon in Paris, the daguerreotype was part of the private collection of art collector François Lepage. ©Millon

Despite the difficulty of the time and the flaws of a process that is still in its infancy, it is easy to distinguish. housing market and his animals, in the foreground, as well as the facadeChurch of Neubourg (Eure)rising against the background of the misty-looking atmosphere. The image evokes the distant past, but connects with the modern life of Neubourg, which is still particularly lively on Sundays.

A heritage treasure

“We think this is the oldest photograph we’ve found in Neuburg,” mayor Isabelle Vauquelin proudly announces. Normal for A daguerreotypean old photographic process that dates back to the origins of what would become photography.

Daguerreotype, the ancestor of photography

Before we got to the paper photographs we know today, shots were immortalized on various types of media. In the origins of photography, the daguerreotype takes its name from one of its two inventors: Louis Daguerre. Supported in his work by Nicephore Niepce, he conceptualized the fixation of an image in this way on a silver-coated copper support with the help of sunlight and iodine vapors. “This is a process that was used until the early 1850s. When other, more practical methods appeared, it quickly fell into disuse,” said Thomas Roche, director of the Eure departmental archive. . Therefore, we can mark it in the period of 1939-1850.”

The chosen one then made sure that it did not disappear into the depths of the private collection. “I was contacted by e-mail by a member of the historical society in Suresnes and told me about this picture being sold at auction,” remembers Isabelle Vauquelin. It is difficult for a society like ours to place ourselves in the auction, so I contacted the director. departmental archives. He replied that he had also identified this object and told me that he would do his best to have it if the prices did not rise too much. »

One evening by email, the mayor will receive good news: against €8,000 is a significant effortThe departmental archives of Eure have managed to acquire this small heritage treasure, the size of a postcard.

This document is quite exceptional. But if we can find the author of this image or narrow down the date it was taken, the biggest revelations are yet to come. We currently consider it to be between 1839 and 1850.

Thomas Roche, director of the Eure departmental archive

Protection, technical problem

To present the fruits of their work and research, the departmental archives are already planning a “major presentation during the year”. But until then, we need to ensure that the emergency document is kept. “Compared to what we have in our archives, this document is not that old, which annoys Thomas Roche. However, special precautions must be taken, such as not being exposed to light or exposed to normal climatic conditions. For example, it should be stored at a lower temperature than paper. This a very fragile support, like all other photo supports, we do not yet know the real resistance over time. »

As a testament to the fragility of this newly-arrived daguerreotype, curators have decided to leave it in its current state of preservation, according to Thomas Roche, “to give themselves time to think carefully about the best ways to preserve it.”

Despite all these precautions, Isabelle Vauquelin wants to believe that the work’s visit to Neubourg is possible. “Hopefully there will be a time when we can expose it, yes! It is still a fascinating object for the history of our commune, “enthuses the elected official.

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Thomas Roche prefers to remain cautious for the time being, not closing the door on this possibility.

We must be vigilant because the conditions of exposure should not contradict the conditions of conservation. Obviously, we are talking about light, for example, but also about security with an alarm and a device so that visitors cannot touch the work. Usually we do this type of loan only in heritage institutions equipped with this equipment.

Thomas Roche, director of the Eure departmental archive

Therefore, a specific investigation should be conducted to determine whether exposure is possible. If agreed, the oldest photograph of Neuburg identified to date will trace its origins more than 170 years later.

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