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Double Vision: Second Empire Theatre in Stereographs

  • Laurence Senelick (a1)


Of cherry-wood or pressed tin, lined with red plush or gutta-percha, hand-held or mounted in a self-standing case, the stereoscope was, by the mid-1850s, ubiquitous in the Victorian parlor, where the viewing device and its attendant cards provided an inoffensive and instructive amusement. ‘The stereoscope is now seen in every drawing-room’, reported the Art Journal of 1856, ‘philosophers talk learnedly upon it; ladies are delighted with its magic representations; and children play with it.’



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1. Hunt, Robert, Art Journal (03 1856), p. 188, quoted in Earle, Edward W., Points of Views: The Stereograph in America—A Cultural History (Rochester: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1979), p. 28.

2. Darrah, William C., The World of Stereographs (Gettysburg, Pa.: W. C. Darrah, 1977), p. 11; Wing, Paul, ‘The French Theatrical Tissues’, Stereo World 5, 5 (November–December 1982), pp. 414; Wing, Paul, ‘Les Theatres [sic] de Paris’, Stereo World 18, 1 (March–April 1991), pp. 412.

3. Detailed reproductions but no informed commentary are provided in Remise, Jac, Diableries. La Vie quotidienne chez Satan à la fin du 19e siècle (Poitiers: Ballard, 1978).

4. Norton, Russell, ‘Preliminary checklist of French stereo card photographers and publishers’, The Photographic Collector 5, 3 (1982), p. 280; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des peintres, sculptures, dessinateurs & graveurs … 3 vols. (Paris: R Roger & F. Chernoviz, 1913) I, p. 1024; E, p. 528.

5. Pellerin, Denis, La Photographie stéréoscopique sous le Second Empire (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale de France, 1995), pp. 104, 108. Russell Norton thinks that B.K. manufactured tissues for others and gradually acquired the rights to the negatives (Norton, ‘Preliminary checklist…’).

6. Norton, , ‘Preliminary checklist …’, p. 290.

7. Helmholtz, Hermann von, ‘Perception of Depth’, Physiological Optics (1867) III, quoted in Earle, , Points of Views, p. 40.

8. Senelick, Laurence, ‘Eroticism in Early Theatrical Photography’, Theatre History Studies 11 (1991), pp. 150.

9. Œuvres de théâtre de Diderot (1772), quoted in Meisel, Martin, Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983), p. 42. Meisel reproduces a number of Hogarthian sequences; for a good selection of Morität sequences, see Kohlmann, Theodor, ed., Traurige Schicksale der Liebe. Moritätentafeln (Dortmund: Harenberg, 1982).

10. Mainardi, Patricia, Art and Politics of the Second Empire. The Universal Expositions of 1855 and 1867 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), p. 190.

11. Of the shows illustrated stereoscopically, many had their first performance or a major revival in the 1860s and early 1870s. The operas include Faust (Théâtre-Lyrique, 1859; first performance at the Opéra 1869); L'Africaine (1865); Hamlet (Opéra, 1869); Les Huguenots (500th performance, 4 April 1872); Aïda (Théâtre-Italien, 1876). The operettas include Barbe-Bleue (Variétés, 1866) and Rip Van Winkle (Folies-Dramatiques, 1884). The féeries include La Biche au bois (revived by Marc Fournier, Porte St-Martin, 1865); Peau d'âne (Gaîté, 1865); Cendrillon, ou La Pantoufle merveilleuse (Châtelet, 1866); La Chatte blanche (two major revivals in 1870 at the Châtelet and Gaîté); Les Mille et Une Nuits (Châtelet, 1881). The ballets include Yedda (Opéra, 1879).

12. Wild, Nicole, Dictionnaire des théâtres parisiens au xixe siècle. Les Théâtres et la musique (Paris: Aux Amateurs de Livres, 1989), p. 76.

13. Ibid., pp. 149, 172, 261, 273.

14. Brockway, Wallace and Weinstock, Herbert, The World of Opera (New York: Pantheon Books, 1962), pp. 215–16. Josef Gregor, in an anti-Semitic, anti-Gallic commentary on Meyerbeer, draws parallels between the grandiloquence of his operas and Louis Napoléon's political ambitions. (Kulturgeschichte der Oper. Ihre Verbindung mit dem Leben den Werken des Geistes und der Politik [Vienna: Gallus, 1941], pp. 319–22.)

15. Holmes, Oliver Wendell, ‘The Stereoscope and the Stereograph’, Atlantic Monthly 3 (06 1859), pp. 747–8.

16. Méliès was born in 1863, and the great period of the féerie was over by the time he had reached the age of reason; by 1875 it was evolving into science fiction, with the Offenbach-Verne extravaganza Le Voyage à la lune. See Ginisty, Paul, La Féerie (Paris: Michaud, 1910), p. 214, as well as Kovács, Katherine Singer, ‘Georges Méliès and the féerié’, in Film Before Griffith, edited by Fell, John L. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), pp. 244–57.

Double Vision: Second Empire Theatre in Stereographs

  • Laurence Senelick (a1)


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