Art & Art History ETDs

Publication Date



The cliché-verre process is a photographic technique; an image is made on a glass plate which is then employed as a negative for contact printing on a light-sensitive sheet of paper. The cliché-verre method for creating prints was developed in the mid-nineteenth century, a period of intense technical experimentation in photography and of revived interest in the graphic process of etching. As the cliché-verre incorporates elements of both printmaking (a drawn matrix through a prepared ground) and photography (the presence of a photographic negative), the technique has occupied a middle ground between the two arts. The process has been explored only tentatively by photographic historians and by those interested in the history of the graphic arts. The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to expand the body of knowledge concerning the uses of the cliché-verre in the nineteenth century, to record the assorted chemical variations pertaining to technical exploration of the process and to examine the cliché-verre print from a visual point of view, ascertaining the character of the medium and the role of the individual impression in the success of the image. The first portion of this thesis presents the precedents, development and technical procedures applied to the cliché-verre in the nineteenth century. Despite the claims of H. Fox Talbot to have made the first cliché-verre in 1839, the honor must go to William Havell, Frederick James Havell and James T. Willmore, who, also in 1839, developed a process which most strictly embodied the principles of the cliché-verre. Certainly Talbot's exhibition of his photogenic drawings and the publication of his process were landmark events in the history of photography, but the three artist-engravers encouraged the use of the cliché­-verre process for the creation of original designs, the avenue by which the cliché-verre found its most successful outlet. Notwithstanding individual chemical variations by later practitioners, the basic procedure for executing a cliché-verre changed little from the method first outlined by the Havell brothers and Willmore. Two methods were presented for achieving the design on the plate: by drawing and by painting. To execute a drawn plate, a glass is covered with a ground and a design is scratched through it. When this negative is put in contact with a sheet of light-sensitive paper and exposed to light, the scratched out areas of the plate allow light to pass through, exposing the paper beneath. The second method is tonal: opaque varnish is applied with a brush to the plate. By varying the density of application, which consequently alters the amount of light received by the paper, a full range of tones can be produced. The cliché-verre was a direct and sensitive means of achieving an autographic original in multiple copies. Publishers employed the technique as a tool for both reproducing original works and for copying existing ones. In 1859, John W. Ehninger, an American publisher, issued a book of cliché-verre prints illustrating the poetry of twelve American authors: Autograph Etchings by American Artists. Joseph Cundall in England used the cliché-verre technique as the initial step in the preparation of electroplates in Electrophotography or Etchings on Glass. In the mid-nineteenth century France, two men, Adalbert Cuvelier, an industrialist turned photographer, and Constant Dutilleux, painter and lithographer, were responsible for encouraging the intense activity with the cliché-verre in Arras, a village north of Paris. Cuvelier and an assistant, Grandguillaume, prepared, processed and printed cliché-verre plates for a number of artists who visited Dutilleux. Among these were: Camille Corot, Eugène Delacroix, Charles Daubigny, Paul Huet, Jean-François Millet and Théodore Rousseau. The work created under Cuvelier's supervision represents the largest body of cliché-verre produced. To Cuvelier and other practitioners discussed, the cliché-­verre held a variety of fascinations. Some were attracted to the process for its reproductive possibilities, as was Ehninger. Others, especially Corot, found the medium satisfying for its flexibility as a drawing surface. Delacroix undoubtedly was drawn to the cliché-verre because of its association with photography. But, from the conception of the cliché-verre method by the Havells and Willmore to the various efforts later in the nineteenth century, a similar basic attraction to the cliché-verre is apparent: it was a simple, flexible means of reproducing an autographic original. The final portion of this thesis explores the visual syntax of prints produced by the cliché-verre method and compares impressions taken from plates in the nineteenth century as well as impressions taken in the twentieth century from nineteenth century plates. To each medium, be it drawing, etching, painting, there appears not only the autographic presence of the artist, but the inherent vocabulary and texture of the medium itself. The print that results, its distinct physical character, has been previously overlooked in the cliché-verre. The comparisons confirm the importance of viewing cliché-verre prints in quality impressions. This novel technique has been viewed as a surrogate etching, but the cliché-verre is a photographic process. Interpretations of the negative is chemical, not physical or mechanical like the wiping and printing of a copper plate. And yet, for so long the cliché-verre remained a step-child, finding its place neither in printmaking nor photography.



Document Type


Degree Name

Art History

Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Art and Art History

First Committee Member (Chair)

Beaumont Newhall

Second Committee Member

Nicolai Cikovsky Jr

Third Committee Member

Thomas R. Barrow