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Castle Kynzvart - Kynzvart Museum of History

           The Kynzvart curio cabinet conceals hundreds and thousands of unique objects which already astonished the visitors of the castle museum in the time of Prince Metternich. The use of the original archive catalog, the original handwritten inventory books and documents now helps to clarify the origin and history of many notable old and exotic curiosities and give back to them their long forgotten histories.

© Dr. Milos Riha, castle steward of the Castle Kynzvart (Koenigswart), Czech Republic, 2004
© Translation: Jack Heller, 2007

(8) The Oldest Photograph in the World  German / DeutschCzech / Cesky
In the Technology National Museum in Prague, one finds in the presentation of the history of photographic technology a valuable photograph of the royal palace in Paris from the year 1840 and, around a year older, a still life with the subject of an artist studio. Scarcely anyone knows the history of this still life from the year 1839 from the collection of the Kynzvart Castle Museum, although it doubtless ranks as the oldest and most valuable daguerreotype in the world.

After the French scientist Joseph Nicephore Niepce in the year 1827 produced the oldest photographic scene – a picture of the roofs in the Chalon-sur-Saone, he continued his collaboration with another Frenchman – the painter and inventor Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre (1787-1851). Louis Daguerre was already recognized since 1822 in all of Paris through his Diorama – optical illusions by means of transparent materials. Since 1829 he wanted to develop together with Niepce new photographic techniques, but their collaboration was interrupted in 1833 by Niepce’s death. Louis Daguerre continued Niepce’s work, he worked alone and his new method, which made it possible, to produce a positive picture on the light sensitive silver iodine emulsion, he made public on August 19, 1839. This photographic process was then called daguerreotype after his name.

Lately a controversy has erupted between experts from the famous American Daguerreian Society and French experts about the oldest daguerreotype portrait. The controversy started when a certain Marc Pagneux in 1989 bought, for only 150 dollars, on the Paris flea market at the port of Vanves a portrait of a man. The man in the portrait could be the painter Nicolas Huet. Because of that however the oldest portrait could date to the year 1837; prior to that another picture, which is about two years younger, was held to be the oldest portrait. Marc Pagneux was silent for ten years about his unique specimen; not until December 1998 did he publish a notice in the daily newspaper Le Monde. The value of his lucky purchase for 150 dollars he estimates at 1 million dollars.

The Kynzvart daguerreotype – a still life from the year 1839 of an artist’s studio with a personal dedication of the author and inventor to Prince Metternich, is a unique technical exhibit with extraordinary importance worldwide. Prince Metternich placed this daguerreotype among the exhibits of the castle museum, but before that he noted on the back a final, important fact, that Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre sent him this daguerreotype before the publication of his invention (!).

These circumstances were written in detail in the original catalog of Metternich’s curiosity cabinet. Professor Paul Rath, the custodian of the Metternich palace museum in Kynzvart at that time, wrote about this object on September 8, 1856: “No. 760: Daguerre’s experimental picture on the occasion of the invention of photographs, sent to His Serene, Clement W. L. Prince Metternich before the publication of this new invention …” this surely extraordinarily valuable picture, with which started an unforeseeable series of artistic photographs and most successful inventions …” etc. The Chancellor Clemens L. W. Prince Metternich himself mentioned this daguerreotype in his letter of August 23, 1839. A copy of this letter is archived in the documents of the Kynzvart Castle Museum.

In the year 1985 the valuable Kynzvart daguerreotype was loaned to the Czech National Museum in Prague. The Kynzvart Castle was at the time already closed for nine years (since April 1976) and there was only a minimal chance that someone could even succeed to raise money for the rescue of the dry rot infested objects. All collections were therefore delivered from Kynzvart in the years 1984-1987 – to the depository and as loans to other museums, galleries and cultural monuments. In the year 1998 however the financing was assured and in the year 2000 the castle was completely opened again to the public. The loaned objects from the original collections were likewise returned. The lending of the valuable daguerreotype to the Czech National Museum was however unfortunately extended in 2002 for another 6 years.

Since 1990 the culture ministry of the Czech Republic received several letters and lucrative offers from an unnamed American company. It offered a million dollars for the daguerreotype. The last time in May 2002 the steward of the castle justified why this unique specimen is not for sale. I think that we should be very ashamed of ourselves if we could not prevent such a sale.

Continuation follows - Further history       Proceeding history       Museum of Stories / List (German)

Kynzvart Castle, CZ-35491 Lazne Kynzvart
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