[Daguerreotype Plate Box]


Not on view

In 1922 a wealthy landowner in southeastern France purchased the derelict estate of a distant relative, Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey. He found in the attic a collection of wood boxes containing a vast visual trove—hundreds of daguerreotypes by an unknown artist of monumental ambition. One of the most significant discoveries in the history of photography, this treasure remained mostly hidden for eighty years, until 2003, when the owner’s descendants held the first of several sales.

Girault worked with unusually large plates, innovating a process to expose more than one image on each plate and then cut them apart. A fastidious archivist, he carefully labeled the resulting photographs and stored them according to size in custom-built boxes. He inventoried his collection several times, as evidenced by inscriptions on the box lids. Girault’s unique and arresting works—more than one thousand survive, many of which are on view in the current exhibition—attest to a photographic feat that remains unparalleled in scope and scale.

[Daguerreotype Plate Box], Unknown (French), Linden wood, plated iron, iron-gall ink

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