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Painting with FireSir Joshua Reynolds, Photography, and the Temporally Evolving Chemical Object$
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Matthew C. Hunter

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226390253

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226390390.001.0001

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Space, Time, and Chemistry

Space, Time, and Chemistry

Making Enlightenment “Photography” in the 1860s

(p.131) 4 Space, Time, and Chemistry
Painting with Fire

Matthew C. Hunter

University of Chicago Press

This chapter considers how late-eighteenth-century chemical replicas after chemically unstable academic paintings were rediscovered in the early 1860s. Seeking to acquire a prototype of James Watt’s steam engine from the Soho manufactory established by Matthew Boulton in the mid-1760s, curator Francis Pettit Smith unearthed a set of replicas, which he called “sun pictures.” Smith identified the images as early photographs. On that basis, he claimed that photography must have been invented at Soho in the final decades of the eighteenth century. Although Smith’s story found support among several leading photographers in the 1860s, it was strongly opposed by Matthew Piers Watt Boulton, grandson of the Soho industrialist. This chapter demonstrates how M.P.W. Boulton destroyed Smith’s story. It also highlights the ways in which Boulton simultaneously integrated Smith’s chemo-mechanical findings into his own aircraft designs. The chapter concludes by arguing for the extensive connections between the leading inventors of photography and combustion-engine research.

Keywords:   Art and Science, Chemistry and Art, Francis Pettit Smith, Matthew Piers Watt Boulton, Airplanes, Photography, Combustion Engines, Elemental Art History, William Henry Fox Talbot, Nicéphore Niépce, British Art

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