Auguste and Louis Lumière


Auguste and Louis Lumière, often referred to as the Lumière brothers, are two French engineers and industrialists who played a major role in the history of cinema and photography.

Auguste Lumière was born on October 19, 1862 in Besançon and died on April 10, 1954 in Lyon. Louis Lumière was born on October 5, 1864 in Besançon and died on June 6, 1948 in Bandol in the Var.

The Lumière brothers were the sons of the industrialist, painter and photographer Antoine Lumière, born on March 13, 1840 in Ormoy (Haute-Saône), and Jeanne Joséphine Costille, born on September 29, 1841 in Paris. Antoine and Jeanne were married on October 24, 1861 at the town hall of the 5th arrondissement of Paris and in the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. Their first two children were born in Besançon (the birthplace of the Lumière brothers): Auguste on October 19, 1862 at 1 place Saint-Quentin (now place Victor-Hugo since 1885) and Louis on October 5, 1864 at 143 grande rue.

“Each brother worked on his own, but until 1918, all their works were signed with both of their first names. This community of work is coupled with a perfect fraternal understanding. The two brothers, who had married two sisters, lived in symmetrical apartments in the same villa. For years, public opinion has evoked the legendary couple of the “Lumière brothers”, united in fame and in life.

Dry photographic plate

According to this fraternal community, the Lumière brothers registered more than 170 patents under their two names, mainly in the field of photography. In particular, Louis invented the ready-to-use instant dry photographic plates known as Étiquette bleue in 1881. It is the sale of these plates that made the fortune of the family. “The “Blue Label” plates were more than a success: it was love at first sight. From the first year, they made us earn nearly 500,000 francs.

In 1893, the two brothers signed the obtaining of the color on dry photographic plate, called “autochrome”, that Louis Lumière, who paradoxically does not like the cinema, considers to be his most prestigious invention, the one to which he devoted more than ten years of his life.


Contrary to a more than tenacious received idea, the Lumière brothers did not make the first films of the cinema, but the first free collective projection of photographic films on a large screen, on March 22, 1895, in front of a restricted audience of scientists of the Société d’encouragement pour l’industrie nationale, at the n° 44 of the rue de Rennes, corresponding from now on to the 4 place Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris. Then followed the screenings of September 21 and October 14, 1895 at the Palais Lumière and at the Eden Théâtre in La Ciotat, in front of a selected audience, and finally the paying screening open to the general public on December 28, 1895 at the Salon indien of the Grand Café located at 14 boulevard des Capucines in Paris. Each of the ten reels projected during this session lasted about fifty seconds. With L’Arroseur arrosé, Louis Lumière made the first fictional photographic film.

The first projections of non-photographic fiction films on a large screen in front of a paying audience date from October 1892, three years before those of the Lumière brothers, and are the result of the patient work of Émile Reynaud who painted directly on his film – animation without a camera is part of cinema and not pre-cinema – the first animated drawings of the cinema, whose duration was already more than a minute and reached 5 minutes in 1900. Before the first Lumière projection, two other projections of photographic films took place, one in New York, organized by the American Woodville Latham on April 21, 1895, the other in Berlin, made by the German Max Skladanowsky on November 1, 1895, but the techniques used for these projections were far from being perfected, and these two screenings did not have any repercussion, neither in the world of photography professionals, nor among the international public, contrary to the one of the Lumière brothers.

Their success was the result of an uninterrupted series of inventions. In 1888, John Carbutt invented a flexible cellulose nitrate strip, which George Eastman marketed in the United States in 1889. Immediately, the Frenchman Étienne-Jules Marey obtained it by devious means and recorded the first series of snapshots on nitrate tape (420 of which have been preserved), without, however, succeeding in projecting them, This did not bother him because his scientific goal was the analysis of movements by rapid photography (chronophotography) and not their presentation as a show, even if his assistant Georges Demenÿ had the idea in 1892, to project such strips cut into small vignettes arranged on his glass disk phonoscope, according to the principle and the cyclical duration of optical toys. From May 1891 to the end of 1895, the Americans Thomas Edison, the inventor of the phonograph, and especially his assistant and first film director, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, produced and shot some 148 films, recorded with the Kinetograph camera and viewed individually by the public with the help of the kinetoscope (viewing through a magnifying glass). They created not only the first movie studio, the Black Maria, but also the Kinetoscope Parlors, slot machines, which prefigured not so much the movie theaters as the arcade.

In 1895, the brothers Max and Emil Skladanowsky publicly presented animated photographic images at the Wintergarten (Berlin) thanks to their bioscope (Caméra Biographea system of twin cameras and projection devices, using two separate strips of images, recorded and then projected alternately, developed by Georges Demenÿ) as of November 1st.

In 1894, Antoine Lumière, Auguste and Louis’ father, attended a demonstration of the kinetoscope in Paris and also, a few steps away, a projection by Émile Reynaud in his Théâtre optique. For Antoine, there was no doubt: the moving image was a future market for the family, aimed at its usual clientele, the wealthy amateurs, provided that the miracle of the moving photographic image was combined with the magic of projection on a large screen. Convinced in his turn, Auguste Lumière started research with a mechanic, Charles Moisson. He failed and it was Louis who took over. During the summer of 1894, in the Lumière factory in Lyon-Monplaisir, he developed an ingenious mechanism that differed from those of the kinetograph and the kinetoscope. Like Edison, he adopted the 35mm format, but in order not to infringe on the film with eight rectangular perforations around each photogram, patented by the American inventor and industrialist, he chose a formula with two round perforations per photogram (later abandoned).

Louis’s invention was in fact a reworking of a pre-existing mechanical process whose principle he adapted to the intermittent movement of the film, necessary for the exposure of the images one after the other, but the emergence of this idea remained in the minds of the two brothers bathed in a miraculous perfume: Louis would have been ill and feverish, and, during an insomnia, he would have imagined giving “to a claw-holder frame an alternating movement, analogous as to operation to that of the crowbar of a sewing machine, the claws sinking at the top of the stroke, into perforations made on the edges of the film that was to carry the image, to drive the latter and, withdrawing at the bottom of this stroke, leaving the film immobile during the ascent of the driving system. It was a revelation. The kinetograph also used intermittent movement of the film, also through a pre-existing mechanism: an electric ratchet cam attached to a toothed drum driving the film. Like the kinetograph, a rotating shutter prevents light from reaching the light-sensitive layer when the film moves one step.

As early as December 26, 1894, one can read in the newspaper Le Lyon républicain, that the Lumière brothers “are currently working on the construction of a new kinetograph, no less remarkable than that of Edison and of which the people of Lyon will soon have, we believe, the privilege. The Edison-Dickson camera is explicitly cited as a pre-existing reference.

With this mechanism, even if he did not make the first films (shot by William Kennedy Laurie Dickson), Louis Lumière – and, by tacit agreement, his brother Auguste – is generally considered to be the inventor of cinema as a photographic spectacle in motion, projected before an assembled audience. The eccentric cam mechanism was a considerable improvement over the kinetograph, where the film was driven by an efficient toothed drum (still used in silver projection cameras today) but was driven roughly by an electric ratchet wheel (later replaced by a more flexible Geneva or Maltese cross). At first, the brothers presented their device under the name of “kinetograph Lumière” or “kinetoscope Lumière”, before calling it “cinematograph”. It was the Parisian engineer Jules Carpentier, to whom Louis Lumière sent all his tests on the evolution of the prototype from the first projection, who finalized the mechanism of the cinematograph, notably by putting it in a box from which only the crank, the lens and a small magazine to contain the blank film came out, a prelude to its production in small series for sale to wealthy amateurs.

From December 1895 onwards, the Lumière brothers played an inventive role in the launch of the cinema show, the beginnings of a flourishing industry that the Frenchman Charles Pathé would develop.

The first film shot by Louis Lumière is Sortie d’usine, better known today as La Sortie de l’usine Lumière in Lyon. It was shot on March 19, 1895, in Lyon on rue Saint-Victor (now called rue du Premier-Film). The first private showing of the Lumière Cinematograph took place in Paris on March 22, 1895 in the premises of the Société d’encouragement pour l’industrie nationale. During the summer of 1895, Louis Lumière shot the famous Gardener, which later became The Sprinkler. It is the most famous film of the Lumière brothers and the first of the animated photographic fictions. While waiting for the first public screening, the Lumières presented the Cinématographe to many scientists. The success was always considerable. On June 11, 1895 for the Congress of photographers in Lyon, on July 11 in Paris at the Revue générale des sciences, on November 10 in Brussels in front of the Belgian Association of photographers, on November 16 in the amphitheater of the Sorbonne, etc.

Their first public projection took place on December 28, 1895 in the Salon indien of the Grand Café of the Scribe Hotel, 14 boulevard des Capucines in Paris, presented by Antoine Lumière in front of thirty-three spectators. Charles Moisson, the builder of the camera, was the chief mechanic and supervised the projection. The price of the session was fixed at 1 franc.

The complete program of the first paying public screening in Paris includes 10 films, all produced in 1895:

The film L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station) was not screened that day, but will be screened later on, and is a huge success.

Six months after the December 1895 presentation, the first film projection in America with the Lumière Cinematograph was organized in Montreal by Louis Minier and Louis Pupier at the Robillard building. In the United States, the presentation of the Lumière Cinematograph caused a sensation in New York on June 18, 1896, and subsequently in other American cities. This triggered the “patent war” launched by Edison in the name of what he considered his prior rights, and the slogan “America for Americans”, forcing Lumière to desert American soil the following year.

The Lumières quickly became aware of the advantages of using their cinematograph to film picturesque images around the world and to show them in projections, or to sell them with the camera. They refused to give the patents of their invention to Georges Méliès, who offered them and others a small fortune. They even tried to discourage this future and talented competitor by predicting his ruin if he started producing films (Méliès closed his company Star Film in 1923, after having made a lot of money thanks to his films, and his ruin was essentially due to his lack of understanding of the future of cinema, and his obstinacy in considering films as by-products of music-hall). The Lumière brothers, on the other hand, had the wisdom to stop producing films in 1902, when they understood that cinema was a new language of which they knew neither the rules to come nor the importance that it was going to take in the whole world. This was not ignored by Thomas Edison, who predicted that “the cinema will later become one of the pillars of human culture”.

In addition to the Lumière Cinematograph, the Lumière Brothers created the ready-to-use dry photographic plate known as the Blue Label in 1881, the Autochrome plate (a color photographic process) in 1903, and the photostereosynthesis (a relief photographic process) in 1920. Louis is also interested in the cinema in relief (by the process of anaglyphs).

In the medical world, Auguste Lumière tried in particular – without success, and his resentment towards his colleagues appears in his works – to spread a theory of colloidal phenomena in biology.

There are 196 patents + 43 additives with “Lumière” as the owner (Collective patents + Lumière companies + individual patents). Auguste Lumière invented many medicines such as Tulle gras to treat burns, the treatment of tuberculosis using gold salts and Cryogenin, Allocaine, Emgé Lumière, etc.

The home of their father Antoine, located near their former factories, in Montplaisir in the 8th district of Lyon, is now a film museum: the Institut Lumière, presided over by Irène Jacob and directed by Thierry Frémaux.

On March 22, 1935, Louis Lumière attended a gala given by Fascist Italy for the fortieth anniversary of the invention of cinema; the Fascist government wanted to fight against the dominance of American cinema. That day, Louis dedicated his photo: “To his Excellency Benito Mussolini with the expression of my deep admiration. This photo and dedication are published on page 3 of a book published on this occasion by the Italian National Printing Office. He associates his brother Auguste in the “deep gratitude” that he expresses towards the fascist organizers of this assembly and in this same work, emanating from the secretariat of the Fascist University Groups, he evokes “the friendship that unites our two countries and that a community of origin cannot fail to increase in the future”.

Louis Lumière was named honorary president of the “Festival of the Free World”, the first edition of the Cannes Film Festival, and the “Lumière Cup”, the ancestor of the Palme d’Or, named to oppose the Mussolini Cup of the Venice Film Festival, was to reward the best film.

In November 1940, in a statement to the Inter-France press agency, he supported the Vichy regime’s collaboration project: “It would be a great mistake to refuse the collaboration regime of which Marshal Pétain has spoken in his admirable messages. Auguste Lumière, my brother, in pages in which he exalts the incomparable prestige, the indomitable courage, the youthful ardor of Marshal Pétain and his sense of the realities that must save the fatherland, wrote: “For the long-desired era of European harmony to come about, it is obviously necessary that the conditions imposed by the victor do not leave a ferment of irreducible hostility against him. But no one could better achieve this goal than our admirable Head of State, helped by Pierre Laval who has already given us so much proof of his clear-sightedness, his skill and his devotion to the true interests of the country. I share this view. I fully endorse this statement.”

He was appointed member of the National Council set up by the Vichy regime in 1941. Auguste Lumière was a member of the Lyon City Council set up by the Vichy regime in the same year and was a member of the LVF Honorary Committee in 1941-1942. Both brothers received the Francisque decoration.

The historian Pascal Ory indicates that the support of the Lumière brothers for the Vichy government did not go beyond “the stage of one or two declarations to the press”, exploited by the propaganda.

In 1995, for the celebration of the centenary of the invention of the Lumière cinematograph, the Banque de France wanted to honor the Lumière brothers by printing the new 200 FF banknote with their effigy. The Amicale des Réseaux Action de la France Combattante protests: “The Lumière brothers inspire deep contempt in us. They cannot be honored without insulting the victims of collaboration. At the July 24, 1995 meeting of the Lyon City Council, Bruno Gollnisch, professor at the University of Lyon-III, representing the National Front, declared: “After Alexis Carrel, these are new figures illustrating the genius of Lyon who are thus attacked.”

The affair of the project of printing 200 FF banknotes with the effigy of the Lumière brothers made a lot of noise in the press: the printing was then cancelled by the Bank of France and the banknote was finally issued with the effigy of Gustave Eiffel. Nothing of the sort happened 17 years later, in 2012, when the Lumière brothers were chosen to represent Rhône-Alpes on the €10 silver coin issued by the Monnaie de Paris, as part of the “Les Euros des Régions” collection.

The Lumière brothers are buried in Lyon, in the new cemetery of La Guillotière (square A6).

External links


  1. Auguste et Louis Lumière
  2. Auguste and Louis Lumière
  3. Les premières fictions du cinéma étant les Pantomimes lumineuses non photographiques d’Émile Reynaud.
  4. a b Ezek a vetítések valójában nem jelentettek világpremiert; számításba kell venni ugyanis az úttörők vetítéseit, így Jean Le Roy-ét a New Jersey-beli Clayton városában 1895. február 22-én, és a francia Louis Le Prince-ét 1888-ban, azonban ezeket a korai, nem kereskedelmi célú vetítéseket a precinema, a film előtti korszak kategóriába sorolják. A párizsi „világpremier” kapcsán meg kell emlékezni a német testvérpár, Eugen és Max Skladanowsky úttörő munkájáról is. Ők 57 nappal a Lumière-ék elhíresült párizsi előadása előtt, 1895. november 1-jén vetítettek néhány rövidfilmet Berlinben, a Wintergarten Varietében, melyek megtekintésért a nézők már belépődíjat fizettek. Egyébként hat hónappal a decemberi párizsi nyilvános előadás után történt meg az első amerikai filmvetítés a Lumière-féle kinematográffal Montreálban.
  5. Gina De Angelis 2003 34.o.
  6. ^ “Died”. Time. 14 June 1948. Archived from the original on 14 January 2009. Retrieved 29 April 2008. Louis Lumière, 83, wealthy motion-picture and colour-photography pioneer, whom (with his brother Auguste) Europeans generally credit with inventing the cinema; of a heart ailment; in Bandol, France.
  7. ^ Siyanure, The Lumiere Brothers’ – First films (1895), 22 dicembre 2006. URL consultato il 6 ottobre 2016.
  8. ^ Louis Lumière, Course en sacs, 28 ottobre 1896. URL consultato il 6 ottobre 2016.
  9. ^ bretteau, cinémathèque française collection (library of congress) e hatot, georges, La vie et la passion de Jésus-Christ /, in The Library of Congress. URL consultato il 6 ottobre 2016.
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