Louis Ducos du Hauron - His time in Paris

Savigny-sur-Orge : the move to Paris

In 1902, Louis Ducos Du Hauron moved close to Paris to take care of his Parisian business, in his case the omnicolor plates of the Jougla company. Alcide, who meanwhile had retired in 1896, had of course moved to Paris to support his brother. The latter did live with his brother at 14; rue des Rossays at Savigny sur Orge, where he was able to create a laboratory where he carried on his work on anaglyphs, these relief images that can be observed with glasses fitted with red and green lenses, that he invented in 1891. After his brother’s death in 1909 then his nephew’s in 1912, he left Savigny-sur-Orge with his sister-in-law to return to Agen in 1914.

In 1951, on the occasion of the first photography fair organised by the local tourist information office, tribute was paid to Louis Ducos du Hauron. The town tourist information office laid this plaque in remembrance of him on 28th January 1951. Members of the Ducos du Hauron family still residing in this part of Essonne were present, for example Mlles Ducos du Hauron, nieces of Louis, Mr. and Mrs Lamarque his grandnephews, representatives of the Letters and the Arts of Agen.

In 1904, Alcide retired in his mansion of Savigny sur Orge after exerting his rights to retirement

Omnicolor photographic plates

In 1906, he made a new attempt to industrialise his discoveries; Louis after filing a patent on the three-colour plate process charged his nephew Raymond de Bercegol to form a partnership with the Jougla brothers to produce and commercialize the first Omnicolor plates. Joseph and Zacharie Jougla first at Nogent then at Le Perreux had set up the Jougla company in 1882 before settling for good at Joinville, at 15-avenue de l’Horloge in 1901. Their plant then industrially produced forty thousand photographic plates a day and made the "SINNOX". In 1907, Omnicolor plates were first produced, the first colour plates in the world, a few months before those that were going to supersede them, the Lumière brothers’ autochromes appeared.

While Louis’s talent was finally rewarded and he could think of a well-earned rest, bad luck fell upon him again. On 2nd April 1911, the public limited company that produced plates, films and photographic papers, of the two Jougla brothers, that had made and commercialized since 1907 the « omnicolor», the first colour plates in the world (before the autochromes of the Lumière brothers) merged before Maître Verzier, notary in Lyons with his competitor, the Lumière brothers company and both were named « Union photographique industrielle - Établissements Lumière et Jougla réunis ». This merger meant to counter Kodak. The head office was located at 82; rue de Rivoli, with a subsidiary in Lyon-Monplaisir. The plant of this new company set up in the Polangis district of Joinville-le-Pont near Paris on the site of the former Jougla company. The new structure commercially favoured the autochrome plates of the Lumière brothers, and gave up the making of Omnicolor probably in 1912. Accordingly, the Omnicolor disappeared to the benefit of the autochrome.

Louis Ducos du Hauron was appointed knight of the Legion of Honour (official journal of 3rd November 1912) at the same time as Louis Lumière who, as for him, was appointed Officer. It was undoubtedly a bitter reward for our friend. One small satisfaction though, he was recommended for a medal by his colleagues, the participants in the 4th convention of professional photographers held in 1908.

Unfortunately, during the First World War, the residence of the Ducos in Savigny sur Orge was occupied by troops. Consequently, most of the furniture disappeared like Louis’s laboratory and the photographs it possibly contained.

What if the Lumière brothers had got it wrong ?

One of the most remarkable aspects of Louis Ducos du Hauron’s work belongs to the field of chemistry. A fair amount of time ago, in 1980, an exhibition, organised within the framework of the month of photography in Paris presented, in the Galerie des Rencontres of Olympus, photographs of Louis Ducos du Hauron. What was most remarkable about this exhibition claimed visitors and professionals alike was the extraordinary well-preserved state of the first polychrome prints some of which were more than a hundred years old and did not show their age at all.

The French daily le Monde, showed its surprise in an article by Roger Bellone (Clichés sans mémoire) dated December 1980 considering the quality of the prints presented wrote : « Their colours are still very fresh, sometimes giving the impression of being colourfast » and was outraged at the partial or total deterioration of colour photographs produced by the big firms on the world market. To sum up, and as regards longevity, Kodak, Agfa and others like Fuji were still unable to compete with Ducos du Hauron in 1980. And it’s a safe bet that at least for traditional photography, these major firms lost the game for good. As Roger Bellone wrote « In the space of a century, photographs benefited from important improvements such as fine details and pure colours. Nevertheless, shouldn’t we regret that this gain in quality was achieved at the detriment of image longevity ? »

Besides, it is surprising to note that we apply this critical assessment to today’s big firms just like the autochrome of the Lumière brothers suffered the same kind of criticism. It should be reminded that from 1907 to 1920, the autochrome produced soft colours with pastel-like tones and excellent preservation. But its sensitivity was so weak and its grain so coarse (especially compared to Ducos du Hauron’s process) that the Lumière company decided to replace the potato starch or brewer’s yeast of the autochromes by bacteria. That was in vain. The resulting gain remained limited but on the other hand preservation qualities were sacrificed. The Lumière brothers’ autochrome disappeared when Agfacolor and Kodachrome emulsions, finer and with brighter colours, were commercialized in 1936, even if they did not represent major breakthroughs in terms of their durability.

Consequently we may wonder if the biggest mistake made by the Lumière brothers, a mistake that led to the disappearance of their firm, was not discarding Ducos du Hauron’s Omnicolor for the benefit of their autochrome.