2002: The Opening of the House as a Museum
Each year, the National Heritage Days are the occasion for Niépce’s House to present the novelties that are later exhibited on a permanent basis.
In September 2002, during the National Heritage Days, Nicéphore Niépce’s house was first opened to the public.On the first floor, in Niépce’s lab and workshop, the visitors were able to have a look at the windows through which Niépce took the world’s first photographies.
The discovery of the exact angle from which the very first photo had been taken is the result of joint work (research and excavations) of J.L. Marignier and P.Y. Mahé around the most famous window of the house.
In the attic, the visitors could see the “study” described in Niépce’s letters, whose wallpaper dates back to the time of the inventor.
Also on display was a comparison between the cadaster register of St. Loup-de-Varennes established in 1775 and an aerial photograph taken by the IGN. The juxtaposition of the ancient map and the modern view shows that a large amount of the distribution of land has remained the same (shape of the roads and paths, the location of dwellings, the distribution of land parcels, etc.). It is thus very easy to identify the pieces of land that belonged to Niépce.
The First Photo:
The invention of photography was presented by J.L. Marignier, by means of reconstitutions of heliographs and physautotypes made by Michèle Lourseau and himself.Marignier also showed a computer reconstitution of Niépce’s house as it presented itself in the inventor’s days. Thanks to this reconstitution he discovered that the window from which the oldest picture in the world had been taken has been moved since Niépce’s time.
Within the framework of research on the origins of photography, one of Daguerre’s first views of Paris was presented: the very image that allowed him to get the official acknowledgement of the invention of the daguerreotype by the Académie des Sciences.
Daguerre offered this daguerreotype to Arago, the perpetual secretary of the Académie des Sciences and a representative of the Pyrénées Orientales, who then donated it to the Musée Hyacynthe Rigaud in Perpignan, where it is still located.
We are much obliged to Madame Marie-Claude Valaison, head curator at the Musée Hyacynthe Rigaud, who lent the Niépce House this daguerreotype for the National Heritage Days.
The Reconstruction of the Pyreolophore:
The pyreolophore, the first internal combustion engine, was invented by Nicéphore Niépce and his brother.
Its reconstruction was organized at the Lycée Nicéphore Niépce in Chalon-sur-Saône (teachers: Alain Baudet, Jean-Louis Bruley, Jean-Jacques Mutiaux, Yannick Plumet, Roland Boyat, Jean Vallet, Marc Lavigne).
For the first time since Niépce’s own experiments, a small boat equipped with a pyreolophore made a few turns on the pond located on Niépce’s estate.
Eventually, visitors were invited to watch the film “Le Gras: The Restoration of Niépce’s House” and the CD-ROM on the pyreolophore reconstructed by the staff of the Lycée Nicéphore Niépce.
The Edition of Niépce’s Correspondance:
During the National Heritage Days 2002, J.L. Marignier presented the computer database he had created on Niépce’s correspondence, whose search engine allows to answer all sorts of questions for which the computer selects the corresponding letters.
Besides operating as an archive, this database permits research from criteria such as individual words, dates, authors, recipients (of letters), key words, and the present owner of the document (private collection, public archives etc.), with the possibility of using several criteria at once. This powerful tool will soon be available to researchers.
The resulting book “Niépce, Correspondance et Papiers”, by Manuel Bonnet and Jean-Louis Marignier, was eventually published in December 2003 by Editions Maison Nicéphore Niépce with the collaboration of Spéos.
The success of these Patrimony Days was due in large part to the active and efficient participation of the inhabitants of Saint-Loup de Varennes.
Patrimony Days (or National Heritage Days) were held on the 21st and 22nd of September in 2002. At Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, it was a historical event, because it was the first time that Nicéphore Niépce’s house was opened to the public.
More than 2000 people were able to visit the place where Niépce made his inventions real. Rather than a simple visit, the public was invited to a series of presentations.
Photo credits: © GAMMA