Robert Demachy, French 1859 - 1936

Robert Demachy was considered by many to be the most influential Pictorialist photographer across the whole of Europe. He was a man of independent means allowing him to focus completely on photography and international travel for it. He was a strong advocate of gum bichromate to enhance Pictorialist photography, for which he coined the term ‘ Photo-Aquatint’ associating it with intaglio printmaking.

It is obvious when studying his work closely that his enjoyment of this process was from the artistic freedom it gave him. His gum prints were very successful, with their greatly softened detail quite deliberately reminiscent of impressionist art.

He became a strong and vocal defender of manipulated printing techniques and we wrote many books, both in French and English, on the technical aspects of the process and the aesthetics he could explore.

He is most famous for the prominent brushstrokes and rough-textured papers. Although these were greatly manipulated, he was able to bring an air of naturalism and poise to his work.

He wrote “Do not say that nature being beautiful, and photography being able to reproduce its beauty, therefore photography is Art. This is unsound. Nature is often beautiful, of course, but never artistic ’per se’, for there can be no art without intervention of the artist in the making of the picture. Nature is but a theme for the artist to play upon. Straight photography registers the theme, that is all - and, between ourselves, it registers it differently” Quoted in Robert Demachy 1859-1936: Photographs and Essays. Bill Jay 1974 (pp. 28-29)

Robert Demachy was a leader in French Pictorialist photography at the turn of the last century. He was elected to the Société française de photographie in 1882 and co-founded the Photo-Club de Paris with Maurice Bucquet in 1888.

He had his first exhibition of gum prints in 1895 at the Photo-Club de Paris, which helped to promote his increasingly international status: the same year he was elected to The Linked Ring in London and made an honorary member of the Royal Photographic Society.

He is chiefly remembered for his gum prints, but in around 1906 he explored very successfully the oil print and oil-transfer prints. He also contributed to Camera Work with gravures and halftones (Nos. 5, 7, 11, 16, 18 and 19)

Personal Notes

Robert Demachy has a contiuing fascination for me; he greatly influences my thinking both when capturing photographs and in the dim-room when I print. He has an unusual eye for the subject and like a painter he will manipulate the image to bring that subject out. He also has the uncanny ability to use the quality of the print itself to enhance the atmsophere of his prints.

Selected Bibliography

Photo-aquatint or the Gum Bichromate Process: A Practical Treatise on a New Process of Printing in Pigment Especially Suitable for Pictorial Workers. With Alfred Maskell, London: Hazell, Watson & Viney, 1897. [One of several “how-to” books by Demachy]. Readily available today as a digitally-scanned replica, though the images are deliberately pixelated. Download a pdf here.

Les Procédés D'Art en Photographie. With Constant Puyo. Paris. Photo-Club de Paris 1906. In the PhotoSeed Archive

Camera (International Magazine of Photography and Cinematography) December 1974 PORTER, Allan (editor). Entire issue dedicated to Robert Demachy

Camera Work. Reproductions (gravures and halftones) or articles about Demachy in Nos. 5, 7, 11, 16, 18, 19

Robert Demachy 1859-1936: Photographs and Essays. Bill Jay. New York, St Martin 1974

Le Report Des Épreuves a l'Huile Robert Demachy Paris 1908 Download a pdf here

Selected Webpages

Wikipedia Page