Jacques-Joseph Ebelman on his Deathbed

Artist: Louis-Rémy Robert (French, 1810–1882)

Date: March 31, 1852

Medium: Waxed paper negative

Dimensions: 19 x 24.5 cm (7 1/2 x 9 5/8 in.)

Classification: Negatives

Credit Line: Purchase, The Hite Foundation Gift, 2000

Accession Number: 2000.235


This paper negative, from the collection of Robert's descendants, shows Jacques-Joseph Ebelmen, director of the Sèvres porcelain factory, on his deathbed March 31, 1852. From its inception, photography was enlisted to record the faces of the deceased-it was, in effect, a new type of death mask. As the antipode to proper representation of the living world, the negative is particularly appropriate for a depiction of death. In it, Ebelmen's head-with pallid skin and white hair-rests on black pillows, and the slight solarization of the negative suggests a spiritual aura.