Scott's Photographica Collection

Autochrome Portrait of Three Women


Autochrome Group Portrait
Autochrome Group Portrait

This portrait of three French women was taken on the first commercially successful full-color photographic plate, the Autochrome.  The Autochrome was invented in 1903 by two brothers, August and Louis Lumière, of Lyon-Monplaiser, France.  It was introduced to a receptive and approving, if not downright excited audience on June 10, 1907.  Autochrome plates were manufactured in a wide variety of metric and English sizes to fit most contemporary glass plate cameras.  Autochrome photography, a very popular means of making color photographs, was practiced until the mid-1930s.

Autochrome plates consist of sheets of glass coated with silver photographic emulsion and starch grains dyed red-orange, green or blue-violet.  The minute starch grains act both as color taking and viewing filters.  Upon viewing the processed plate, the brain blends the matrix of colored grains into a myriad of colors.  Autochrome plates are color transparencies.  I wrote an article that contains a simple but more comprehensive description of the Autochrome.  See the section titled Albert Kahn's Autochromes.  Here is a link to the article.


Hanging Autochrome Frame
Hanging Autochrome Frame

I was surprised to find an Autochrome mounted in this type of frame.  It appears that the frame was intended to be hung in a window.  Sunlight would eventually bleach the image.

This Autochrome is backed by a sheet of opal glass.  Its purpose is to diffuse the light for better viewing.  Processed Autochromes were prepared with or without a diffusion backing depending upon the intended viewing method.  Autochromes can be viewed by projection, in table-top or hand-held Brewster-style viewers, in viewers specially designed for Autochromes, known as Diascopes, or by simply holding them up to the light.

Follow this link to view a box of Lumière Autochrome glass plates and this link to see a copy of the USA patent for Autochrome plates.

This Autochrome measures 9 x 12 cm.


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Page created January 10, 2002; updated December 20, 2020