The Daguerreotype in Sweden

Par Rittsel 

News of the invention of photography reached Sweden with the speed of the stage-coach. Three weeks after Daguerre's invention had been briefly announced in Paris, a newspaper in Stockholm was able, on 28 January 1839, to report "one of the most important inventions of the century". More details became available during the autumn, after Arago's public introduction, and at Christmas that year, the bookseller Adolf Bonnier published a Swedish translation of Daguerre's manual.

Among those who bought the book were, naturally enough, the scientist Jacob Berzelius > and his circle. He, as well as Carl Wilhelm Scheele before him, had been responsible for some of the chemical findings which made photography possible. The Swedish Academy of Science published continuous reports on the advances made in photography.

Several of Berzelius' colleagues also tried their hand at producing daguerreotypes, including Major Fabian Wrede, the instrument-maker C. E. Littman, A. W. Ekelund, professor of physics at Lund University and his peer in Uppsala A. Svanberg (where a Giroux camera still is preserved).

The pioneers, however, were to be found in Stockholm. G. A. Müller, stage designer at the Royal Opera, acquired photographic equipment together with U. E. Mannerhjerta, once a pioneer in lithography and at this time costume manager. Müller had learned his craft as an assistant of Gropius in Berlin, the stage decorator who had built his own Dioramas as direct copies of Daguerre's stage designs. Now they walked the short distance across the square from the Opera to the Bonnier bookshop to buy the translated Daguerre manual!

Early in 1840, another lithographer, the young Liutenant L. J. Benzelstierna, recieved an apparatus from the Swedish ambassador in Paris. His story is worth telling: After a ship wreck in the Bay of Biscay in 1831, he was rescued by French fishermen and decided to walk home (across Poland) to Sweden. On foot in France, he encountered the newly formed French Foreign Legion and decided to join, just in time to be shipped to North Africa, where he fought bravely and was appointed Sergeant-Major in the battle-field. Finally on his way home, he befriended the Swedish ambassador in Paris, who supported his trip home, his education in lithography, and eventually his Daguerreian apparatus.

In September 1840, this three men exhibited their views of Stockholm at the Royal Museum, located in one of the wings of the Royal castle.

At the same time the French merchant Neubourg exhibited his Daguerreotypes in the Old Town, just around the corner from the castle. One year had passed since the official announcement of the new invention, and four photographers were already exhibiting!

Müller and Mannerhjerta soon abandoned the daguerreotype. Müller emulated Daguerre and built a Diorama in Stockholm. The building is still to be seen close to the outdoor museum Skansen's entrance. Benzelstierna became our first professional photographer, although not by selling his images: He choose instead to demonstrate, for an admission charge, the entire complicated process involved with the silver-coateded copper plates.

After publishing a set of four city views of Stockholm, executed as lithographs from the original plates towards the end of 1840, he started his demonstrations in the beginning of 1841. He attracted large audiences and decided to continue his activities in the provinces. For almost two years he travelled Sweden, photographing and exhibiting. None of his pictures have surfaced, but I have discovered his written memoirs, which provide a number of interesting glimpses of his pioneering activities.

While Benzelstierna toured the countryside with his rapidly aging technique, new daguerreotypists were appearing in larger towns and cities. J. A. Sevén started doing portraits in Stockholm in the summer of 1841, but was soon facing competition from photographers from abroad. Mostly from the well-established Joseph Wenninger from Vienna, who with his brother Heinrich visited Göteborg and Stockholm in 1843. By this time, the Frenchman A. Derville had established himself in Stockholm, where he was permitted to photograph the newly crowned king Oscar I in a couple of daguerreotypes. None of them exist in the Royal collections, but I have found a badly damaged plate, a portrait of king Oscar, in a provincial museum.

Among the Swedes who spread the daguerreotype process across the country we can note above all the portrait painter Per Lindberg, who had learnt his craft from Wenninger, Isac Cohen, and Isac Lewin, who was instructed by Derville.

Porcelain painter William Heinemann's suite of about eight plates from the Sala silver mine offers unique outdoor views from a period when the portrait was otherwise dominant and industry certainly not a common subject.

Swedish daguerreotypists also worked on occasion in other countries. The painter Carl Peter Mazèr was active in Russia before returning to Sweden in the 1860's, where he made cartes-de-visite. S. F. Beurling worked in Havanna, Cuba, for five years, and J. F. Polycarpus von Schneidau was an assistant to Mattew Brady in New York before opening a studio of his own in Chicago. In 1849, he took a remarkable daguerreotype of the Chicago flood. He died ten years later, probably from poisoning, a not uncommon daguerreian cause of death!

The greatest portraitist of this era was J. W. Bergström, whose life began in poverty and ended in riches: After ten years as a daguerreotypist he turned his interest to industry and made a fortune as a manufacturer. He left behind him a large work of masterly portraits, but it is his pictures from the sphere of his private life that attract our greatest interest, including the lovely portrait of his wife > Charlotte, some self portraits, and a picture from his garden, covered in snow.

Jacob Berzelius

(in Swedish)

Daguerre's manual in Swedish

Neubourg's view of  "Skeppsholmen" from Lerebours'  Excursions daguerriennes: vues et monuments les plus remarquables du globe,  1842. Originaly printed as a monochrome aquatint.

Charlotte Bergström
by J W Bergström

S F Beurling in Havanna