His youth in the South West

Louis Ducos du Hauron was born in Bazas, rue Notre Dame, near the town of Langon on 8th December 1837 at 6 pm. His father, Jérôme, aka "Amédée" was from Bordeaux and held the job of civil servant in the excise duties department. His mother, Marguerite Boivin, who was from the Agen area, was the granddaughter of a deputy of the Third Estate in the Estates-general. Louis, in fact Arthur-Louis, was the second child of three siblings in a bourgeois family. His elder, Alcide, in fact Jean-Marie-Casimir, born in Coutras on 29th January 1830, became magistrate but also a literary man who published several pieces of poetry[1], some of them illustrated with his own drawings. This will allow him to accepted in 1857 as residing member of the academic Society for the arts, letters et sciences of Agen. The third child, Berthe, was the youngest in the family and was born in Libourne in 1842.

The siblings spent their youth in different towns of the South West, Libourne, Pau, and Tonneins, Agen in accordance with the duties conferred on their father.


Louis, like his brothers, and in accordance with the rules of the bourgeoisie but also his delicate constitution, had a preceptor at home after attending the Choir school of Agen and the « Petit Collège ». He quickly showed many aptitudes, especially in sciences and more particularly in physics and chemistry. Besides, in that respect, as a young adult, he communicated his first works on light sensations (study on the persistence of vision) and on the distribution of light and shades in the universe.

Already when he was a child, he also showed real aptitudes for painting and music. He was a recognized piano player and practised his musical skills all his life, sometimes even teaching them. Incidentally, Camille Saint-Saëns a good many years later sent him this letter :

Dear Sir,
I know that you are a heroic pianist and that difficulties attract you instead of frightening you … if you don’t know Le Caprice sur Alceste (or rather the ballet arias of this opera) I take the liberty of recommending it to you particularly. It’s one of the pieces I played with the utmost pleasure and famous pianists did not consider beneath themselves to include it in their concert repertoire..."

Never mind, he was not insensitive to pictorial arts and more particularly to painting the light of which fascinated him and whose various secrets he endeavoured to unveil all through his life. As early as in 1859, his very first scientific communication was entitled Study of light sensations ‘(see « work » section to peruse the different works of which he is the author).

To sum up, Louis was an artist. And like many artists, he struggled to manage his own career, he was unable to "sell" his inventions, support himself, and more generally, to develop personally in a world growing more and more materialistic, to such an extent that he spent his whole life living off his elder brother Alcide. The latter was a true sponsor and protector.

Their father, Jérôme, had correctly determined the personality of his children. In October 1863, on his deathbed, he had Alcide promise to look after his younger brother and to encourage his scientific research. Alcide never dishonoured his commitment. He defended and supported him until he died.

It’s important to know that Louis Ducos du Hauron’s work would not have flourished that way without the constant presence, the unfailing help and the moral as well as financial support of Alcide. Ducos du Hauron. Alcide, magistrate, illustrator, poet and writer who wrote different pieces of work - theatre plays, legends and cabalistic poems - about which Jean-François Bladé wrote "a happy man, who found a way to be satirical without venom and moral without being boring" and also "a man of rules and imagination, of practical sense and reverie."


In the course of the professional postings of his father (Tonneins, Auch) then of his brother Alcide with whom he lived in Agen when Alcide was appointed deputy judge at the court of Agen on 14th May 1864, then in Lectoure in 1866 and in 1869 "By imperial decree dated 11th December 1869, Mr. Ducos, judge at the seat of the court in Lectoure had been appointed judge at the court of first instance" in Agen. Then they lived in rue Saint-Louis (nowadays rue Louis Vivent). Alcide married a woman from Temple-sur-Lot, Marie Césarine de Foucauld, and Louis lived upstairs, with a laboratory in the attic. He also tried to alleviate the financial burden for his brother by giving piano lessons.

A few years before, in 1864, the year when Louis Lumière was born, Louis Ducos du Hauron filed his first patent for the cinema in March under number 61976, designating this new technique of chronophotography. We are far from the toys of the early 19th century such as thaumatropes, phenakisticopes, zoetropes and other praxinoscopes then animating drawn images.

In 1866, while residing in Lectoure where Alcide had just been appointed judge, he undertook a passionate quest to grasp colours. He was not a photographer at the time but this research led him to embark, probably with the help of pharmacists and photographers in Lectoure, on the making of the first coloured pictures.

According to Jean-Claude Pertuzé, the famous illustrator, the Ducos du Haurons lived in a fine house at the corner of the lower part of rue Fontélie. This is a deduction based on a photograph that Louis Ducos du Hauron took on the balcony of this dwelling.

"Nature landscape taken in Lectoure" (one of the photographs that Louis Ducos du Hauron took from home)

During this stay in Lectoure then in Agen, he probably began his experiments on colours. To be convinced of that, it is enough to know that the famous and very first print "Leaves and flowers", of the Niepce museum is dated from 1869.

On the following year then, Alcide returned to Agen as judge in the civil court. Louis, Alcide et Marie lived cours Saint-Antoine at the time, then a little later, in 1869, moved to the corner of rues Scaliger and Lamenais

House rue Scaliger where Louis Ducos du Hauron lived

During this rich and lively period, he filed many important patents. He also wandered about the paths, with his view camera on his shoulder to take the first colour pictures of Agen.

He was not the only one to have an interest in photography, especially in colour. When he submitted his very first three-colour process of colour photography entitled "colours in photography, solution to the problem" to the French Photographic Society on 7th May 1869, on the same day Charles Cros presented an identical process !

They may be two, it does not matter, and both are the inventors of colour photography. Except that Louis provided proof of that with pictures, laying the theoretical foundations needed to allow industrial production.

Louis’s work went farther than this invention. After heliochromy, he got on with optical research in particular anamorphosis. The process he designed is still applied in astronomical observatories. He set off on research that also led to the invention of cinema. And yet, glory failed to materialize. The only laurels he was given were a few minor awards: those of Palais des Champs-Élysées in 1870, that of the 11th exhibition of the French Photographic Society, that of the Union of Fine Arts in 1876 and lastly, that of the Agen Industrial Exhibition along with the medal of honour of the town in 1879.

His first colour photographs were presented to the general public on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition of 1876. On this occasion a Munich industrialist, Eugène Albert, foresaw the industrial application of his discoveries. He offered him a fortune to exploit his process in Germany. Out of sheer patriotism and in the hope of a French industrial development, Louis turned down the offer. The Franco-Prussian War had left a few traces on the patriotic Frenchman. Moreover, he had some hope that a printer in Toulouse would use his invention.

Ten years later in 1881 the family moved to rue Palissy, still in Agen, for a short period, because Alcide, a judge at the court of Agen, was appointed counsellor at the court of appeal in Algiers on 25th January 1881. Louis, deeply absorbed in his research, and working to create a colour-printing house in Toulouse, obviously could not go with him. The two brothers decided to part company. Louis set up in a beautiful house in Agen rue Lamouroux with his sister-in-law and his brother’s children; Alcide sending supporting money regularly so that he could carry on his research. His wife, his children and his brother Louis only joined him at the beginning of 1884.


Louis was not going to spend his life facing scientific experiments. But they are taking up more and more of his time, whether in the laboratory or outside, facing the industrial world for the first time. His project is an agreement with the agenais Alexandre Jaille[2]and a few other backers to create a trichrome printing plant in Toulouse. Louis Ducos du Hauron leaves for Toulouse, during 11 months, working on the organization, the manufacture and especially the obtaining and production of the trichrome negatives. His three-colour printing company officially saw the light of day in Toulouse in the form of an Agen company incorporated in the photo-collography workshops managed by André Quinsac at 3 rue de l'Aqueduc. Louis devoted his whole time to it to such an extent that he forgot to write to his brother who worried about his silence. Louis had to face the technical difficulties involved in the development of his process but also the difficult relations with the workshop foreman, one Despans. Being separated from Louis made life so difficult for Alcide that he did everything he could to come back to metropolitan France and work there. Then as he could not get a transfer, he accepted the idea of having his brother come to Algiers. All the more so as one of Quinsac’s students, one Portier, ran a workshop in Algiers. Under these conditions why could not Louis work there? Alcide who was trying besides to think of self-financing solutions for the workshop in Toulouse suggested the making of heliochrome portraits of celebrities to promote their image. The first one who let himself be tempted was Philippe of Orléans, Count of Paris (1838-1894). But in spite of an excellent result, the latter gave up the idea of a bulk order preferring B&W engraving.

Continuation of the adventure in the period Time in Algiers

[1] He is the author of many poems most of them published in Agen but also of « Les noces de Poutamouphis » at Poulet-Malassis and de Broise in 1861,« La Danse Macabre au XIXe siècle » at P. Didot in 1864, « La Grange du Diable » printed by Bonnet in 1865 and « légende poétique » with two drawings made by himself. Note that « Les noces de Poutamouphis » and « La Grange du Diable » were reissued by Hachette and the French National Library (BNF) in 2013 and 2016.

[2] Alexandre Jaille (1819-1889) is an agricultural engineer who founded a drugstore in Agen in 1851. But he is also known for partnering in 1866 Georges Thomas, a manufacturer known for being the cofounder of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Agen with the aim of building the "Georges Thomas et Cie" firm, which became later "Droguerie Centrale du Sud-Ouest" The building still exists rue des Frères Magen and is not far from the house of the Ducos de Hauron boulevard Scaliger. Alexandre Jaille had also a private mansion built 7 rue Auguste-Gué, in Agen by the department architect Léopold Payen in 1874 and listed as historic monument on 20th December 2002.

Louis Ducos du Hauron Alcide Ducos Du Hauron Alexandre Jaille André Quinsac