Crayon portrait

  • Crayon Portrait

  • crayon portrait

    A crayon portrait — also called a crayon enlargement or a pastel portrait — is a monochrome print that has been retouched with pencil or colored. This type of photograph is an enlargement from a smaller negative and appears after the invention of the first solar enlarging cameras in the 1850s.

    Photographic prints for crayon portraits were made from low-contrast negatives with good detail. The negative’s flaws became more visible when enlarged, but some imperfections could be corrected before printing. Specific techniques were used to soften the overall effect, including printing through a diffusing cloth or applying a sheet of frosted glass associated with a layer of glycerin to the negative. The final print had to be somewhat blurry to be colored properly.

    Printing-out processes — salted paper or albumen — were generally used in the early years. However, the greater sensitivity developing-out processes was more adapted to the dim light of the enlarger, and the thicker papers they used held up better during the process of retouching.
  • portrait crayon

    Crayon portraits were typically rectangular or oval, measuring between 40 x 50 cm and 50 x 60 cm (15.74 x 19.68 in. and 19.68 x 23.62 in.). The paper had to be slightly coarse for color to adhere. Highlights and large expanses of similar tones were reworked using pencils, Conté crayons, pastels, watercolors or gouache paint, applied using stumps, fingers, brushes or (starting in the 1880s) an airbrush. Eyes, hair and clothing were especially worked up, sometimes to a degree that the underlying photograph was hardly visible. The final image was mounted on rigid cardboard (or sometimes wood or canvas) and was usually framed.

    The condition in which these images are found today depends on the materials used and on how they have been stored. Starting at the end of the nineteenth century, paper and cardboard were made from chemically unstable materials and so have aged poorly and are brittle and subject to yellowing and staining. When used to mount crayon portraits, they contaminate the photographic print, where their deterioration is often catalyzed by light and humidity.
  • crayon portrait

    Images from top:
    Anonyme, Sans titre, 1896, Portrait-crayon, © Collection privée / photo Lionel Riess
    Détail agrandi © ARCP / Mairie de Paris, Lionel Riess


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