This unique collection of original albumen prints documents the project initiated by photographer Séraphin-Médéric Mieusement on behalf of the French Commission des Monuments Historiques. Beginning in 1872, Mieusement photographed France's historic buildings, monuments and important architecture to create an encompassing documentation of architectural restoration projects.The collection includes 10 books, containing albumen prints and inventory pages. Each album, covered in burgundy fabric and with metal corner, measures 14 x 24 x 1.5 inches and includes 40 to 45 pages, with stamped albumen prints mounted on bookboard.
Séraphin-Médéric Mieusement (1840- 1905) became a professional photographer at the age of 19 and worked with several well-known French architects, such as Félix Duban, Anatole de Baudot (Castle of Blois) and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc (Castle of Pierrefonds) by photographing their historic buildings. In 1872 Mieusement proposed his services to the French Commission des Monuments Historiques to photograph France's historic buildings. The French government had a long term restoration campaign, at the time many historic buildings were in need in repair from the time of the French Revolution. A similar project in 1851 had been partially completed when the Commission had selected five photographers to make a photographic survey of France's architectural patrimony. The Commission kept 258 prints and stored both prints and negatives. Today the bulk of these negatives are in the collection of the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Mieusement wanted to ensure the longevity of the albumen prints and sent a dispatch accompanying a group of photographs to describe the quality, ’they are well-washed to ensure the conservation’.
Mieusement's 1872 proposal was initially turned down because the majority of the budget for the Commission was allotted for restoration rather than documentation. Mieusement expressed his willingness to travel throughout France in order to complete the entire project and submitted many samples. The Commission eventually acknowledged the importance of photographing monuments for the sake of art, architecture, preservation, study and nationalism, and requested in 1877 that he provide specific architectural photographs for the 1878 World's Fair. Approximately 350 of Mieusement's photographs were exhibited next to architectural drawings and acquired by the Commission of Historic Buildings. The Commission finally agreed to Mieusement's project and subsequently throughout the years (20+) he documented thousands of buildings. Other historical organizations saw his work and in 1881 he was also hired by the Ministry of Religion to photograph cathedrals and churches. Mieusement had the foresight to contract with the Commission in the 1880's for the rights to exploit and sell his photographs. Mieusement gave control of the commercial exploitation of his work to his son-in-law, Paul Robert in 1891 although Paul died in 1898 and Médéric Mieusement went on to live until 1905.
According to the various stamps on the photographs, most of the images were taken by Séraphin-Médéric Mieusement, but other photographers also contributed to the books:
ETIENNE NEURDEIN (b. 1832 - d. 1918) AND LOUIS ANTONIN NEURDEIN (b. 1846 - d. 1915)
Sons of the photographer Jean César Neurdein, the Neurdein brothers opened a photography business in Paris in 1863. Etienne handled the administrative aspects and photographing portrait, while Louis-Antonin photographed buildings or landscapes. La maison Neurdein proposed and sold photographs of portraiture, historical figures and architectural views in various formats. In 1868, La maison Neurdein also sold photographs of France, Algeria, Belgium, and prints postcards marked "ND" and "X". Starting in 1886 the brothers Neurdein received a number of awards and medals (gold medal at the International Exhibition of the Society of Sciences and Industrial Arts, an award at the 1889 Universal Exhibition of 1889). The Ministry of Public Instruction awarded them the right to exploit the collection of the Commission for Historical Monuments from 1898, which included the printing and sale of proofs from negatives belonging to the state, and preserving the collection and keeping it up to date. The Neurdein brothers filled in gaps, and photographed many buildings, especially in Corsica. The Photographic Archives (Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine) include a number of glass plates taken by the two brothers.
JEAN EUGÈNE DURAND (c. 1850 – 1923)
Jean-Eugène Durand was a French photographer specializing in photographs of historic monuments. His first photographs acquired by the administration in 1876 relate to the territory of Seine-et-Oise. Just like Mieusement, Durand covered all of France and made thousands of photographs which enriched the Archives of the Commission of Historical Monuments. During the forty years of his activity (1876-1917), which continued long after his retirement, he continued to photograph monuments before, during and after restoration. Some 1,750 glass plates were acquired by the Department of Fine Arts in 1923-24.