Art/ Collection/ Art Object

A Section of the Constellation Cygnus (August 13, 1885)

Artist:
Paul Henry (French, 1848–1905)
Artist:
Prosper Henry (French, 1849–1903)
Date:
1885
Medium:
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Dimensions:
25.8 x 21.2cm (10 3/16 x 8 3/8in.) Mount: 31.4 × 23.8 cm (12 3/8 × 9 3/8 in.)
Classification:
Photographs
Credit Line:
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Robert Rosenkranz Gift, 2005
Accession Number:
2005.100.124
Not on view
Astronomers at the Paris Observatory, the brothers Paul and Prosper Henry inherited in 1872 a project begun twenty years earlier--the mapping of the heavens by means of painstaking observation, calculation, and notation. In a dozen years they charted nearly fifty thousand stars. When, in 1884, their survey approached the Milky Way, the Henry brothers found that the cluster of stars proved far too dense and complex to chart by eye, and they constructed a photographic telescope to produce an exact, objective record of the sky.
That photography might serve astronomy was evident from the very beginning. Daguerre's standard-bearer François Arago, director of the Paris Observatory, declared in July 1839 that the daguerreotype would eventually accomplish with ease the most delicate and difficult astronomical tasks, such as mapping the surface of the moon. Indeed, before the Henry brothers' first use of the medium, other photographers had successfully charted lunar geology, solar and lunar eclipses, the transit of Venus, sunspots, the surface of Mars, the rings of Saturn, and the relative position of the brightest stars.
No one, however, had yet recorded stars so distant and faint that they were not visible to the eye. This the Henry brothers achieved in 1885 by constructing a still more powerful photographic telescope, with an extraordinarily precise mechanism for tracking the stars across the night sky during exposures as long as one hour. The resulting photographs, each seemingly infinite expanse showing but a three-degree section of the firmament, remain among the most sublime conceptions of scientific photography.
Inscription: Inscribed in ink on mount, recto TC: "Photographie d'une portion du Cygne (13 Août 1883) // AR = 19h 55m. -- P = 52° 15' // Observatoire de Paris" and recto BC: "par M.M. Henry"
[Mayer & Mayer, Köln]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, January 22, 1990

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," May 25, 1993–July 4, 1993.

Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," August 7, 1993–October 2, 1993.

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," June 19, 1994–September 11, 1994.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Master Photographs from the Gilman Collection: A Landmark Acquisition," June 28, 2005–September 6, 2005.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "Brought to Light: Photography and the Invisible, 1840-1900," October 11, 2008–January 4, 2009.

Graphische Sammlung Albertina. "Brought to Light: Photography and the Invisible, 1840-1900," February 13, 2009–May 17, 2009.

Hambourg, Maria Morris, Pierre Apraxine, Malcolm Daniel, Virginia Heckert, and Jeff L. Rosenheim. The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. no. 154.



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