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Aime Dupont

Time Period: 
1885-1900, 1896-1920
Location: 
Paris, New York City
Biography: 

(1842-1900)

Aime Dupont was the son of M. Dupont, one of the principal photographers of Brussels, Belgium. Besides his schooling in the family studio, Aime Dupont received training in chemical processes as well as fabrication techniques in the School of Mines, Liege. He knew how to process stone from the quarry to the polishing room in a sculptor’s studio. He learned lithography, and experimented in formulating photographic toning agents from various minerals. He was hired by Maison Walery in Paris as a photographic technician, but created sculptures at a home studio. In the early 1870s he set up as an independent artist. The blazon on his cabinet cards read "Sculpture & Photographie, Aime Dupont, Avenue des Champs-Elysees, Paris." He won the Gold Medal for photography at the Paris Exhibition of 1878 and was later awarded the Legion of Honor for his Sculpture.

When the Recession of 1882 worsened into the Panic of 1884, the wealthy found themselves bankrupted, and the clientele for sculpture vanished. At the urging of his American-born wife Etta Greer Dupont, he emigrated to New York City, setting up a portrait studio in Harlem. With his wife keeping the books, Aime Dupont’s studio enjoyed such great initial success that early in 1886 he moved his premises to 574 Fifth Avenue. He produced sculpture and shot photographs; the latter proved the easier means of supporting his family.

He built his own staging areas in his gallery, arranging screens and baffles so that the natural light could be used to maximum emotive effect. He maintained a sculpture studio in the same building. Because of his connection with the Parisian artistic scene, Dupont determined from the first to concentrate his business upon celebrity portraiture: opera singers, actresses, dancers, authors, and musicians. He became the first choice photographer of the newly formed Metropolitan Opera.

Like the other New York celebrity photographers - Sarony, Falk, Mora, and Schloss - he greatly concerned himself with reproduction technology. Though he advertised himself an "Artistic Photographer" he was every bit as much a "Manufacturing Photographer," to use the parlance of that day. He was among the first to regularly seek publication of his images in periodicals. His sensitivity to space and form gave him a singular advantage as a photographer. He could compose a portrait so as to diminish the least comely aspects of a sitter. One contemporary wrote: "Dupont’s skill made him a great favorite among actresses whose figures were imperfect, as he could by his art improve all their shortcomings. And in his case it was not merely retouching that did the work. It was 'distancing.'"

In the 1890s he began to suffer from stomach cancer. A bout of indisposition forced his wife in the 1890s to substitute as photographer for a sitting of actress Emma Eames. She recalled, "I had no experience in taking pictures, but I had always been associated with artists and had an understanding of line and light. My knees trembled and my hands shook, but—I took the picture off Mme. Eames, and it was a success. Then—well, I kept on." As Aime’s health declined in the last years of the 19th century, Etta Greer Dupont took over the task of posing sitters. Upon his death in 1900, she kept the studio operating under her husband’s name, and a generation of young stage people grew up thinking that Etta was Aime Dupont.

She grew so successful that she opened a branch studio at Newport, and photographed socialites there during the summer months when she shuttered the New York business. She was listed in the New York Blue Book. In 1907 she began providing illustrations for the New York Times’s "Society and Home and Abroad" column. By 1912 she had rebranded the business as the "Photographer for Smart Society." In 1920 the business went into bankruptcy with liabilities of $25, 302 and assets of $5,878. She sold the name to other interests who maintained the studio as a portrait brand through the 1950s.

Aime & Etta Dupont had a single child, a son, Alfred, who was educated in the family business, but who determined to become an independent artist upon reaching manhood.

NOTES: Steven F. Joseph, Tristan Schwilden, & Marie-Christine Claes, Directory of Photographers in Belgium, 1839-1905, vol. 1 (Antwerp: Museum voor Fotographie, 1997), 159. "Dupont, Mme. Aime (Etta A. Greer)," The National Cyclopedia of American Biography 15 (New York: James T. White, 1916), 134-35. "Aime Dupont, Famous Photographer, Dead," The Professional & Amateur Photographer 5 (1900), 79. Obituary, Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin (1900), 68. "Portrait Photography," The St. Louis and Canadian Photographer 24 (1900), 172. Wilson’s Photographic Magazine, vol. 50 (1913), 213. Profile of Aime Dupont: http://historiccamera.com/cgi-bin/librarium2/pm.cgi?action=app_display&app=datasheet&app_id=1798 David S. Shields/ALS

Specialty: 

The repressed tonal range of his portraits, the fine gradation of shadow, and the penchant for toning toward the red were all stylistic developments typical of Parisian celebrity photography as practiced by Walery (Aime Dupont's former employer) and Reutlinger. And, while Aime had a penchant for full figure images, Etta Greer less so, unless sitters were in costume.

Aime offered periodic comments to the press on aspects of his art, including the following maxims for posing:

"Make no preparation beyond selecting becoming dress."

"The hand that falls upple will not look large."

"The eyes of one too eagerly attentive are likely to have the hideous photographic stare."

"A short, stout person should take a standing pose. Tall, slender persons may pose any way."