About This Exhibition

Wonderful wonder of wonders!!…Here is a revolution in art!

This was the American reaction to the invention and introduction of the photographic daguerreotype in 1839. This winter exhibition presents a selection of 82 works from the collection of nearly 900 daguerreotypes at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Wichita museum-goers will explore the advent of photography in these charming, imaginative historical photographs. Daguerreotypes reflect magical bits of reality from a bygone era. Well over a century later, they still hold wonder and appeal.

The daguerreotype was at once a science and an art, a documentary tool and a charged emblem of emotion and memory. Very early daguerreotypes are enchanting but technically crude: exposures took many minutes and the images are relatively faint. Rapid progress was achieved as practitioners explored the invention’s commercial potential, especially its use in portraiture. In 1840–1842, exposure times were reduced from minutes to seconds, and the tones of the images were greatly improved. The potentials of photography as we know it today were explored in the daguerreotypes of the 1840s and 1850s.

The Wichita presentation will be a reduced selection from the landmark show that opened the new wing at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in 2007. Hallmark Cards developed a world-class early photography collection of 6,500 works that the company donated to the museum as the Bloch Building opened. The scholarly reception of the exhibition and accompanying catalogue has been resoundingly positive and noted as “an unparalleled historical collection of American photography.” Wichita audiences will be so impressed by these gems, the accessible learning, and the creative gallery presentation.

This exhibition has been organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.


Daguerreotype of a clown standing with hands on hips, dressed in polka dots from head to toe. Frames in a light brown mat. Framed in a gold-leaf trimmed dark brown frame

Unknown Maker, Clown, about 1850–55. Daguerreotype, 2 1/4 x 2 3/4 inches. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc. © Nelson Gallery Foundation