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Physionotrace

(Fr.: physionotrace)

PR. The first system invented to produce multiple copies of a portrait. Invented in 1786 by Gilles Louis Chrétien (1774-1811). In his apparatus a profile cast by a lamp onto a glass plate was traced by an operator using a pointer connected, by a system of levers like a pantograph, to an engraving tool moving over a copper plate. The aquatint and roulette finished engraved intaglio plate, usually circular and small (50 mm), with details of features and costume, could be inked and printed many times. One description mentions that a sitting could take as little as six minutes and within four days a dozen impressions could be delivered, hand-colored if desired, with the copper plate, for fifteen francs.

Chrétien hired a partner, Quenedey, who soon left and competed against his former boss. This lead to a denunciation from Chrétien to the Journal de Paris. Another player was Gonord, who began the manufacture of physionotrace kits for amateurs.

Physionotrace was very popular in France, where it had a detrimental effect on miniature painting and engraving. At the Salon of 1793, one hundred physionotrace portraits where exhibited. Three years later that number increased to six hundred. The physionotrace portrait replaced the miniature and was used as frontispiece illustrations in a number of books, but it was not until the advent of photography that the portrait was truly democratized.  (Nadeau, Encyclopedia, p. xxx).

Physionotrace by Quenedey, Paris, 1816. Image 60 mm, case 90 mm Physionotrace by Quenedey, Paris, 1816. Image 60 mm, case 90 mm

Physionotrace by Quenedey, Paris, 1816. Image 60 mm, case 90 mm.

Physionotrace by Quenedey, Paris. Not dated. 107 x 87 mm Physionotrace by Quenedey, Paris. Not dated. 107 x 87 mm

Physionotrace by Quenedey, Paris. Not dated. 107 x 87 mm