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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Robert Demachy

Born: Robert Lèon Demachy 
Dates:  1859, 7 July - 1936, 29 December
Born:  France, Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Died:  France, Hennequeville
Active:  France
French artist, writer and photographer who was a founder member of the Photo-Club de Paris and one of the great users of the gum bichromate and oil processes. As one of the leading French pictorialists he contributed works to Camera Work. He was also a member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Robert Demachy
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Demachy was the most well-known French pictorialist around the turn of the twentieth century. He was born Léon Robert Demachy in Saint Germain-en-Laye (near Paris), on July 7, 1859, into a wealthy banking family. He spent his formative years cultivating himself in music, painting, and literature, and volunteered for a year in the French army.
In 1882, he joined the Société Française de Photographie, and shortly thereafter was a cofounder of the Photo-Club de Paris, a group devoted exclusively to artistic photography. He served on the editorial committee of the club’s monthly publication and helped organize it first salon of photographic art, in 1894.
The same year, Demachy began using the recently revived gum-bichromate process, a printing method that allowed extensive hand manipulation of the image. Later, he also made Rawlins oil and oil transfer prints. His photographs often pictured nude female subjects handled in a very painterly manner. He wrote extensively on photographic technique and aesthetics, including six books, the first of which, with Alfred Maskell, appeared in 1897 and addressed gum printing. Hundreds of articles by him were published in magazines in France, England, and the United States.
Fluent in English, Demachy maintained correspondence for over ten years with Alfred Stieglitz, who included both articles and images by him in Camera Notes and Camera Work. Stieglitz trusted Demachy’s eye to the extent that he had him select the work for a group exhibition of French photographs that was seen at New York’s Photo-Secession Galleries in 1906. Demachy enjoyed long lasting visibility in England’s Photograms of the Year. Reproductions of his work appeared every year but once between 1896 and 1916, and during much of this time he also wrote an annual review of pictorial photography in France. English organizations that welcomed him included the Linked Ring Brotherhood, which elected him to membership in 1895, and the Royal Photographic Society, which declared him an honorary fellow (Hon. FRPS) ten years later.
Demachy exhibited extensively, beginning by 1892, when some of his photographs were seen at the Palais de Beaux Arts in Paris. Over the next twenty years, his work was included in exhibitions in Amsterdam, Berlin, Boston, Brussels, Buffalo, Florence, Hamburg, Leeds, New York, Philadelphia, Rochester, St. Louis, and Vienna. In 1904, he had a solo show at the Royal Photographic Society, in London.
In 1910, Demachy’s images were used to illustrate two fictional travel books by Anna Bowman Dodd. Titled In and Out of Three Normandy Inns and In and Out of a French Country House, they featured his accomplished soft-focus renderings of quant French scenery and people. Shortly thereafter, at the outbreak of World War I, Demachy inexplicably gave up photography for drawing. So in 1929, when Three Normandy Inns was republished (in a slightly larger format), it included reproductions of Demachy’s drawings rather than his photographs.
Even after he stopped photographing, Demachy continued to send his work to photographic salons, nearly until his death. Among them were those in New York in 1923 (sponsored by the Pictorial Photographers of America), Paris and London in 1927, and Chicago in 1933 (as part of the Century of Progress Exposition). Robert Demachy died on December 29, 1936, at Hennequeville, and was buried in the family tomb at Père Lachaise, in Paris. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

Biography provided by Focal Press 
The leading French pictorialist, member of the Linked Ring, exhibitor at Stieglitz’ 291 gallery who championed the manipulated image with an outpouring of prints, lectures, and articles. Demachy’s diverse subject matter often reverberated with the impressionistic style and always revealed the hand of their maker. Technically brilliant, especially in gum bichromate printing, Demachy was disdainful of the clarity of detail and the automatic trace of reality of the "straight," unmanipulated print and defended the painterly image arguing:
"A work of art must be a transcription, not a copy of nature … there is not a particle of art in the most beautiful scene of nature. The art is man’s alone, it is subjective not objective." 
(Author: Robert Hirsch - Independent scholar and writer) 
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 

Further research

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Supplemental information


Robert Demachy
French, 1859-1936

Robert Demachy was born into a wealthy Parisian family which in turn allowed him to pursue his love of art and music, without having to worry about how to support himself. He was influenced by the Impressionist painters and spent most of his time making photographs and developing his theories on photography, both technical and aesthetic. He wrote thousands of articles and several books on photography and was a strong proponent of techniques used to manipulate a photograph such as the gum bichromate process, oil transfers and scratching of the gelatine. He founded the Photo-Club de Paris with fellow photographer C. Puyo and was a prominent force in French pictorial photography. In 1905 he became a member of The Linked Ring and was an honorary member of the Royal Photographic Society. His photographs were also reproduced Stieglitz's Camera Work. He exhibited his work and lectured internationally before giving up photography in 1914 in order to pursue drawing. His work can be found in such collections as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.
[Contributed by Lee Gallery] 

Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.] Go to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.92 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.138-139 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Robert Demachy.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.123 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.245 
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Robert Demachy are included in this classic history.] 
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