French diplomat and innovative amateur photographer Baron Jean Baptiste-Louis Gros was born in Ivry-sur-Seine on February 9, 1793. Little is known about his family or his childhood except that his father was an emissary for the Duchess of Bourbon and that he was an accomplished painter and sketch artist at an early age. Following in his father’s footsteps, Mr. Gros entered diplomatic service in 1823, and five years later received the title of Baron. He traveled extensively over the next several years, to Egypt, Mexico City, and Bogota. While in Colombia, Baron Gros learned of the invention of the daguerreotype and began experimenting with the new process. His first daguerreotypes - of the Parthenon - were produced in 1840. Baron Gros was intrigued by the object detail that could be achieved through photographic images, and his Chevalier lenses would accompany him on diplomatic missions. In 1841, he presented his theories on color reproduction to the Academy of Science in Paris, but they were dismissed because he failed to provide convincing proof to support his hypotheses.
Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Baron Gros produced several architectural daguerreotypes of several historical monuments including the towers of Venice and the Acropolis, and published two treatises - Recueil de memoires et procedes nouveau concernant la photographie and Quelques notes sure la photographie. In the latter text, the Baron recommended replacing daguerreotypes with paper calotypes because of their more aesthetically pleasing softer hues. He returned to Greece in 1850 to settle an Anglo-Greek dispute on the marble of the Parthenon, during which time he created eighty architectural daguerreotypes from several vantage points.
By the mid-1850s, Baron Gros's mastery of the daguerreotype has earned the respect of the photographic industry. He became one of the founding members of the Societe Heliographique in Paris and was a frequent contributor to La Lumiere, edited by Ernest Lacan and important periodical chronicle of the latest photographic innovations. After the Societe Heliographique disbanded, Baron Gros became a founding member of the Societe francaise de photographie, and his "Memories of Athens" daguerreotypes were featured in its first exhibit in 1855.
There is no mention of Baron Jean Baptiste-Louis Gros's name in the Bulletin of the Societe francaise de photographie beyond 1857, and so it is presumed that the demands of his diplomatic duties precluded him from further daguerreotype experimentation. For his years of service, he was named a grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, and Grand Cross of Isabelle the Catholic. He ended his political career as French ambassador to Great Britain. Baron Jean Baptiste-Louis Gros died in his hometown of Ivry-sur-Seine in 1870, and his impressive daguerreotypes are currently on international display at such institutions as the National Library of France, the Musee Getty, and the George Eastman House.
2008 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 623-624.
1993 The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 3rd Ed. (Waltham, MA: Focal Press/Elsevier), p. 34.
2006 Picturing Place: Photography and the Geographical Imagination (London: L.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.), pp. 40-41.
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