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Louis Vignes views and panoramas of Beirut and the ruins of Palmyra, 1864

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Vignes (Louis) Views and Panoramas

Biographical / Historical

Louis Vignes (1831-1896) was born in Bordeaux, France, where his father was director of the mint. Vignes entered the École Navale in 1846 at age 15. He rose steadily through the naval ranks and by 1860 he had directed the building of the port of Beirut and attained the rank of lieutenant. In 1862, Vignes captained a steamer attached to the division of the coasts of Syria. By the end of his long and successful naval career Vignes had attained the rank of vice admiral and had become Inspecteur général de la Marine.

Early in his career Vignes was already practicing photography as an amateur, but how or where he obtained photographic training is unknown. Between June 1859 and October 1862, while pursuing his naval duties, Vignes traveled from the south of France to Lebanon via Sicily, Turkey and the Palestine. During his tour of duty around the Mediterranean basin he made the 52 calotype negatives of landscapes, monuments, and sites now held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Photographies négatives de Louis Vignes, FRBNF41425799). That he also photographed naval life as well is evidenced by a group of portraits he made of himself and his fellow ship's officers in 1859 that are held in the present repository (accession no. 2016.R.40).

Vignes met Honoré Théodoric d'Albert, duc de Luynes, in October 1863, while the latter was staying in Hyères, France. Luynes, who was planning his first expedition to the Dead Sea region, recruited Vignes to serve as the expedition's climatologist and photographer. Vignes's knowledge of photography, together with his familiarity with Syria and the Middle East, his demonstrated military leadership, and his navigational skills and knowledge of astronomy, made him an ideal member of the expedition. Vignes was granted leave from the navy effective February 1, 1864, and by the ninth of the month he and the other expedition members had set sail from Marseilles.

The expedition reached Beirut on the twenty-first of February, 1864. There, Vignes took at least one two-part panorama of the city before the travelers moved on to Jerusalem via Sidon and Tyr, and then headed to the Dead Sea. The expedition traversed both the west and east sides of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea in Le S­égor, an iron boat that could be dismantled and transported by camels, that Luynes had had built in the shipyards of Seyne, France. Unfortunately, Luynes was compelled to leave the expedition at Petra on the seventh of June due to illness. Vignes and the other members of the expedition - geologist Louis Lartet and naturalist Dr. Gustave Combe - completed the expedition, returning to Beirut on June 24.

Vignes remained in Beirut after the other two men had returned to France, as he still had another commission to complete for Luynes, that of making a photographic record of the ruins of ancient Palmyra. After fulfilling his mission in the fall of 1864, Vignes returned to France. From that time forward he seems to have devoted himself exclusively to his increasingly important naval positions, and any photographs he may have made after 1864 have yet to come to light.

Fifty-two of Vignes's photographs from the Dead Sea expedition were reproduced as photogravures by Charles N­ègre for the Atlas of the duke's account of the expedition, Voyage d'exploration ­à la mer Morte, ­à Petra, et sur la rive gauche du Jourdain, published in 1875, eight years after Luynes's death. N­ègre (1820-1880) had studied with the academicians Paul Delaroche and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who encouraged him to explore the newly emerging medium of photography for use as a painting aid. N­ègre, who pursued painting, photography, and printing throughout his career, made his first daguerreotype landscapes in 1844 and began making calotypes in 1848. In 1851, Nègre became one of the founding members of the Soci­ét­é Héliographique, the first French organization dedicated to photographic endeavors.

As the photographic aspect of his career progressed, N­ègre became known for his well-crafted heliographs, a type of photogravure, and by 1856 he had patented his own version of Nic­éphore Ni­épce's heliographic process (h­éliogravure), which he named paniconography. His dedication to the perfection of the h­eliograph was prompted in large part by his pursuit of the 8,000-franc prize Luynes had announced in 1856 for the invention of the photomechanical process that could best reproduce photographs for publication. In 1865, when Luynes gave Nègre the negatives Vignes had taken during the expedition, including those from Palmyra, commissioning him to make both photographic prints and photogravures from them, the prize had not yet been awarded. Although Luynes himself preferred Nègre's photogravure process, the independent jury finally awarded the prize to Louis-Alphonse Poitevin for his photolithographic process in 1867.

Sources consulted:

Aubenas, Sylvie, "Louis Vignes (1831-1896)." BNF Shared Heritage, Biblothèques d'Orient.

Foliot, Philippe. "Louis Vignes and Henry Sauvaire, Photographers on the Expeditions of the Duc de Luynes." In History of Photography, 14:3 (1990) 233-250, DOI:10.1080/03087298.1990.10442460.

Hellman, Karen Reed. "Le Secq, Henri (Jean-Louis Henri Le Secq des Tournelles), 1818-1882." In Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, edited by John Hannavy, II:837-839. London: Taylor ­& Francis, 2008.

Luynes, Honor­é d'Albert, duc de. Voyage d'exploration ­à la mer Morte, ­à Petra, et sur la rive gauche du Jourdain. Paris: Arthus Bertrand, ­éditeur, 1874.

Martini, Jean-Mathieu. "At a Crossroads." In Henri Sauvaire (1831-1896): voyage d'exposition a Hebron, Karak, Djafar, El-Heca, Chaubak, Dausak, Twahn­é et Zatt-Rass. Munich: Daniel Blau, 2015.

Montiero, Stephen. "N­ègre, Charles (1820-1880)." In Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, edited by John Hannavy, II:982-985. London: Taylor ­& Francis, 2008.

Paviot, Alain. Le voyage du duc de Luynes: photographies de Louis Vignes, [exposition], 6 mars-13 mai 1980: voyage d'exploration ­à la mer Morte, ­à Petra, et sur la rive gauche du Jourdain, f­évier-juin 1864. Paris: Galerie Octant, 1980.

Terpak, Fran, "Acquisition Approval Form for 'Louis Vignes (French, 1831-1896), 47 Photographs of Palmyra and Beirut, Albumen Prints, 1864,'" accession no. 2015.R.15, May 20, 2015.

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