A pupil of Léon Bonnat and Ernest Hébert, Richter first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1866 and over the next 50 years or so exhibited a wide range of subject matter, from historical scenes and portraits to the Orientalist pictures for which he is perhaps best known. These works are characterised by Richter's skill in capturing rich detail and textures, a strength that is also evident in the present work.
Painted in 1875, this work shows a family waiting to have their portrait taken by the visiting photographer. The elegantly dressed ladies talk amongst themselves while the photographer attempts to direct the baby's gaze to the camera, aided by the mother who holds a favourite toy above the camera.
The opulent interior indicates this is not the photographer's studio but rather the family's home. The walls are painted in a sumptuous red with gilt detailing on the doors, while the room is filled with elaborate furniture and ornaments.
The photographer's visit beautifully showcases Richter's skill in painting fine details and capturing textures, as seen in the central lady's pink dress. Adorned with flowers and green trim, the silk dress and its swathes of expensive fabric are carefully rendered with delicate brushstrokes.
The present work is notable not only for its fine detail but for its modern subject. Photography was introduced in 1827 by the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce, but was a lengthy and specialised process. Daguerre's new technique of using silver on a copper plate was announced in 1839 and enabled photography to be widely practiced. By the following year, coinciding with a rising demand for portraiture from the growing middle classes, daguerreotype studios were found throughout Europe and in the United States.
People were the most common subject of nineteenth century photography, and its ability to render unique likenesses, as well as its low cost compared to the traditional time-consuming and expensive oil portrait, rendered portrait miniaturists obsolete. Indeed, many feared that photography threatened painting as an art form, so it is perhaps with a sense of irony that Richter chooses to depict such a scene.