Nicéphore Niépce

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Joseph Nicéphore Niepce

Birthplace: Chalon-sur-Saône, Saône-et-Loire, Burgandy, France
Death: July 05, 1833 (68)
Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, Saône-et-Loire, Burgandy, France
Immediate Family:

Son of Claude Niepce and Claudine Barault
Husband of Antoinette Marie Catherine Agnès Réparade Romero
Father of Jacques Marie Joseph Isidore Niepce; Claude Victor Amédée Niepce and Agenor Louis Joseph Niepce

Managed by: Carina TT
Last Updated:

About Nicéphore Niépce

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce était un ingénieur français, considéré comme étant l'inventeur de la photographie, appelée alors « procédé héliographique ».


While many inventive men had experimented with the photograph, solving the mystery of fixing the camera image had eluded them until the success of Joseph Nicephore Niepce.

Niepce came from a wealthy French family in the city of Chalon, France. He was educated for the Catholic Priesthood and for a period of time was an instructor at the seminary. Niepce joined the French military in 1791 and served in Italy until he contracted typhoid fever in 1794. He retired to Nice, where he married and became active in local politics.

Niepce and his brother, Claude, two years his senior, were inventors with some degree of success. In 1807 they obtained a patent from the Napoleonic government for a motor for large boats. They named their invention the Pyrealophare. He constructed his first camera in 1816; he created an image on white paper but was unable to fix it. He continued experimenting with different cameras and chemical combinations for the next decade.

The Niepce family declared the date of 1822 as the birth of photography; a plaque in his home bears this date, but unfortunately, there is no physical evidence to substantiate it.

There is record of a successful asphaltum copy on glass which contained an engraving of Pope Pius VII. It was given to Niepce’s cousin, General Poncel, who dropped and broke the plate while showing it to friends.

In the year 1827, Niepce produced the first lasting record of his work. Using a plate coated with bitumen he recorded an eight-hour exposure from his bedroom window. The plate was then washed with a solvent and placed over a box of iodine, producing a plate with light and dark qualities. Niepce named the resulting image a Heliograph. Today this image resides in the Gernsheim collection, in the research center at the University of Texas at Austin.

The same year it was recommended to Niepce that he meet with Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre. a painter of theater scenes, to discuss his invention. Niepce and Daguerre became partners securing a ten year contract; unfortunately, Niepce died four years later.

There is a statue and a museum dedicated to Niepce’s memory in Chalon, France. Niepce was one of the first photographers inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame at its inception in 1966.

By Vi Whitmire For IPHF

The Niépce Heliograph (See in Media)

See the earliest surviving photograph produced in the camera obscura.
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The invention of photography was announced simultaneously in France and England in 1839, dazzling the public and sending waves of excitement around the world. These astonishing breakthroughs depended upon centuries of developments in chemistry, optics, and the visual arts, accelerating in the decades after 1790. The Niépce Heliograph was made in 1827, during this period of fervent experimentation. It is the earliest photograph produced with the aid of the camera obscura known to survive today.

The photograph was made by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833), born to a prominent family at Chalon-sur-Saône in the Burgundy region of France. Motivated by the growing popular demand for affordable pictures, Niépce's photographic experiments were conducted with the dual aims of copying prints and recording scenes from real life in the camera. At his family estate in the nearby village of Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, he produced legible but fleeting camera pictures—or points de vue, as he called them—in 1816. Over the next decade he tried an array of chemicals, materials, and techniques to advance the process he ultimately called héliographie, or 'sun writing.'

To make the heliograph, Niépce dissolved light-sensitive bitumen in oil of lavender and applied a thin coating over a polished pewter plate. He inserted the plate into a camera obscura and positioned it near a window in his second-story workroom. After several days of exposure to sunlight, the plate yielded an impression of the courtyard, outbuildings, and trees outside. Writing about his process in December 1827, Niépce acknowledged that it required further improvements, but was nevertheless "the first uncertain step in a completely new direction."

In 1829 Niépce entered into formal partnership with Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (French, 1787–1851), proprietor of the famous Diorama in Paris. Daguerre continued to make vital improvements after Niepce's death and introduced his "Daguerreotype" process in 1839. After that stunning announcement, the Niépce Heliograph was brought forth by early supporters as evidence of his role in photography's invention.

The Niépce Heliograph passed through a chain of private hands in Britain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries before it was purchased by the Harry Ransom Center in 1963 as part of the Gernsheim Collection. More than twenty of Niépce's heliographic plates and prints made between 1825 and 1829 are held in public and private collections, yet the Niépce Heliograph is the only known surviving point de vue.

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Nicéphore Niépce's Timeline

March 7, 1765
Chalon-sur-Saône, Saône-et-Loire, Burgandy, France
April 4, 1795
Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France
Cagliari, Cagliari, Sardegna, Italy
November 19, 1801
Chalon-sur-Saône, Saône-et-Loire, Burgandy, France
July 5, 1833
Age 68
Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, Saône-et-Loire, Burgandy, France