Autochromes Lumière

The Golden Age of the Autochrome

In 1906, this little factory was not yet operational, but by 1911 the workshop was a major asset to the Lumière Company. It was here that the attention to detail and the perfection of craft had freer reign than anywhere in Monplaisir. The cost of the Autochrome, a "plaything of the rich," was about three times that of the Étiquette bleue, and the Lumières, forever practical, sold boxes of four Autochromes at the same price as the boxes of twelve Étiquette bleue plates.  

The Immediate Success of the Autochrome
By 1914, the production of Autochrome plates surpassed 6,000 per day. We cannot say that their popularity was due to their high cost, but rather to their simplicity of use. Only three operations were required, with successive washes, to obtain a colour photograph very near to the quality of a painting. Printers also sought to reproduce the Autochrome, but it was the daily paper Illustration that achieved a coloured reproduction that was faithful to the nuances of the emulsion, which finally placed the Autochrome into the hands of a wide public audience. The Société française de photographie and Léon Gimpel played an important role in unveiling and launching this procedure. By 1914, the Lumière Autochrome, cherished invention of Louis Lumière, was still the only colour photographic procedure accessible to all.

World War I, a Fatal Blow
The factory appears to have run at full production up until 1914. This was no different from other Lumière factories, though production here was on a relatively modest scale. The First World War brought a fatal blow however, and in the autumn of 1914, the Monplaisir factory had to close its doors due to a lack of supplies. Six months into the war, the manufacture of black and white photographs would resume because the army needed photographic plates for their operations, but the production of Autochromes never regained its earlier level, and the colour factory was never expanded.

Manufacturing Continued on until the 1930's
By the 1920's, the Autochrome no longer made up a significant part of the Lumière's revenue. It was then that the glass plates were abandoned in favour of flat film, and the Lumière Company released Filmcolor. Little by little, the technicians managed to do away with the coal that had been used to fill the spaces between the starch granules. They then developed the Lumicolor line, also created and distributed from the Monplaisir factory, which became the leading French colour photography procedure. Right until the end, the Lumière Company pinned their hopes, as had Louis, on their colour procedures.

Monplaisir/Lumière/Colour: Three Names Forever Linked

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