The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Camille Silvy, 1834-1910

Nationality: French
Date of Birth: 1834.05.18
Place of Birth: Nogent-le-Rotrou, Eure-et-Loir
Date of Death: 1910.02.02
Place of Death: Saint-Maurice, Seine


Camille Silvy or de Silvy was a diplomat turned photographer.


Silvy made his exhibitioning debut in 1858 with River Scene, France (or Vallée de l'Huisne), a work which was influenced by the paintings of Charles-François Daubigny and which anticipated Impressionist iconography. He used a combination of wet collodion on glass negative with albumen-coated printing paper in order to achieve a clarity of effect.

From the autumn of 1859 until 1869 he was in London, where he took over the firm of Caldesi & Montecchi, 13 Pall Mall East, S.W., and became the city's first carte-de-visite photographer, producing huge numbers of portraits which he sold in volume, and employing a staff of forty. For him photography was industrial rather than artistic and creative.

In 1859 Silvy collaborated with Jean-Ferdinand Joubert on a callotype process, and in 1865 he was experimenting with magnesium lighting. His photographs of the British Library's famous Italian Renaissance Sforza manuscript were published in London in 1860, printed by Joseph Clayton. The National Portrait Gallery in London has his daybooks covering the period from August 1859 to July 1868 and the V&A has a collection of his contact proofs.

Silvy's studio at 38 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater was opulent, adorned with fifteenth century Flemish tapestries and antiques, in addition to Carlo Marochetti's silver equestrian statue of Queen Victoria. Nadar claimed that he owned the daguerreotype used by Paul Gavarni to draw his caricature of Balzac, a daguerreotype that was also used by Rodin for his statue of Balzac.

In 1863 Étienne Carjat was in correspondence with JW concerning setting up a rival business to Silvy's in London (#00537).


Lee, David, 'The Victorian Studio', British Journal of Photography, 7 February 1986, pp. 152-65, 14 February 1986, pp.188-99; Haworth-Booth, Mark, Camille Silvy: River Scene, France, Getty Museum Studies on Art, Malibu, 1992; Haworth-Booth, Mark, 'Camille Silvy', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 9 May 2003).