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Claude Felix Abel Niepce de Saint Victor

Claude Felix Abel Niepce de Saint Victor was born on July 26, 1805 in Saint-Cyr, France. He was the first cousin of photographic pioneer Joseph Nicephore Niepce. Mr. Niepce de Saint Victor embarked upon a military career at the school Lamar, which he left in 1827, with the rank of Quarter Master to the 1st regiment of dragoons. Meanwhile, he pursued his interest in chemistry, and maintained a laboratory on the outskirts of Paris. One of his experiments involved adding chlorine to daguerreotype plates. These plates were then placed in a camera obscura and given lengthy exposures of several hours. Mr. Niepce de Saint Victor discovered there was a connection between the color that chloride salt produced in a flame with the color light produced on a chloride salt-treated plate. Heliochrome was the name of this process, which enabled Mr. Niepce de Saint Victor to produce copies of color engravings and landscapes. He did not produce daguerreotypes, and soon learned that the images he produced using the heliochrome process were not fixed and began turning gray with increased light exposure. Applying transparent coatings did not prove effective, and therefore Mr. Niepce de Saint Victor soon abandoned this unfeasible method. However, his experiments with heliochrome did lead to the successful daguerreotype color process developed by a New York Baptist minister named Levi L. Hill (1816-1865).

In 1841, while researching the permanence of color for the daguerreotype, Niepce de Saint Victor discovered that cochineal turned his uniform coat red, and in the experiments of applying various chemicals for clean purposes, he further discovered various shades and decomposition of colors. With this knowledge he found an opportunity in 1842 to meet a resolution by the minister of war to change the collars, sleeves and facing of thirteen regiments uniform coats from crimson to orange. Niepce de Saint Victor, now a lieutenant of dragoons in the garrison of Montauban offered to change the color without having to un-sew or disassemble the coats, rather only brush on a solution. He performed the method in front of a special committee and saved the government more than 100,000 francs.

In 1845 he left Montaubin and lived in the barracks of St. Martin. He was encouraged by the scientific community to leave his military career but his request was denied.

Mr. Niepce de Saint Victor continued his research, and in 1847 invented an albuminous substance which enable him to secure his images on glass or a leaf of mica. He was described in the Art Journal as the inventor of the "Chebe's de Verre". The glass plates were coated with a mixture of egg whites, potassium iodide, and sodium chloride. The plates were then dried and placed into a silver nitrate bath, which created light-sensitive layers on the plates. After exposure, the plates were developed with gallic acid and later pyrogallic acid. This process, now known as the Niepceotype, though identical to the calotype, was much more time consuming, but the plate resolution was of a significantly higher quality. Although never used for portraits, this process proved extremely effective for architectural and landscape photography. Nevertheless, it was a lengthy and quite cumbersome technique, and so after a few years, the Niepceotype process was only used to produce stereo transparencies and lantern slides.

In 1851, Niepce de Saint Victor held the rank of Captian in the French Army. He was able to establish a laboratory in the hall of the police of sub-officers in the Barracks of St. Marin. However at revolution of February, the barracks were attacked and burned, with a loss to Niepce de Saint Victor of no less than 15,000 francs. Then, due to announcement from an American named Mr. Hill of Greene Co. in New york, Niepce de Saint Victor was forced to publish prematurely the secret of his experience, so that his family name could retain the progress of adding color to his uncles initial discover.

Niepce de Saint Victor then began working as a scientist in Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel's laboratory, Mr. Niepce de Saint Victor conducted experiments on the occurrence of penetrating rays, and noted their similarities to phosphorescence. These studies appeared to be fruitless at the time, but later proved instrumental in the discovery of radioactivity by Mr. Becquerel's son Antoine Henri and fellow scientists Pierre and Marie Curie. Mr. Niepce de Saint Victor published several scientific texts on his research findings including Researches photographiques (1855), Traite pratique de gravure heliographique sur acier et sur verre (1856), and Sur une nouvelle action de la lumiere (1861). After his retirement from the French Army, Mr. Niepce de Saint Victor continued experimenting with scientific photography until his death on April 7, 1870 at the age of 64.

1851 The Photographic Art Journal p. 95- 99
1991 The Daguerreotype (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press), p. 40.
2005 Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.), p. 67.
2008 The Concise Encyclopedia of Focal Photography (Burlington, MA: Focal Press/Elsevier), p. 10.
2011 The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge (New York: St. Martin’s Press), p. 45.

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