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Sir Charles Wheatstone and his family

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Sir Charles Wheatstone and his family

by Antoine Claudet
stereoscopic daguerreotype, arched top, 1851-1852
2 7/8 in. x 2 1/4 in. (73 mm x 57 mm)
Given by Governing Body of King's College, London, 1980
Primary Collection
NPG P154

Sittersback to top

Artistback to top

  • Antoine Claudet (1797-1867), Photographer and inventor. Artist or producer associated with 44 portraits.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 202
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 25 Read entry

    The sitters are (left to right): Arthur William Frederick, son (born 1848); Wheatstone; Florence Caroline, daughter (born 1850); Charles Pablo, son (born 1857), and Emma West, Mrs Wheatstone (c.1813-65), who died before her husband's knighthood.

    Charles Wheatstone began his career as a musical instrument maker, and from the start revealed his powers as an inventor when he patented the concertina (1829). He was the first to make possible the sending of messages by electric telegraph, a pioneer of submarine telegraphy, and instrumental in the creation of the modern dynamo. In the history of photography he has a special place, for in 1832 he invented the stereoscope, by which an impression of solidity in an image is obtained through the combination of two pictures in slightly dissimilar perspective. He announced his discovery in 1838, a year before the invention of photography, and, on the publication of Fox Talbot's and Daguerre's work, he quickly asked the leading photographers (among them Richard Beard) to take pictures for his instrument. It was not however until the invention of the lenticular stereoscope by Sir David Brewster in 1849 that it was possible to obtain a satisfactory result from stereo-daguerreotypes. These were displayed at the Great Exhibition in 1851, and thereafter achieved widespread popularity. This seems to have gone to the head of Brewster, who claimed pre-eminence over Wheatstone, and there followed a war of words in which the Scotsman showed especial spite.

    Claudet, a native of Lyons, came to London in 1829 and opened a glass warehouse in High Holborn. He was the first to import daguerreotypes and cameras from France, and soon eclipsed his rival Beard. He applied himself keenly to the development of stereoscopic photography, and was largely responsible for its popularity. His pictures were taken by two cameras set up side by side - there was no binocular camera - and this gives them an effect of exaggerated rotundity. This historic photograph shows the inventor of the stereoscope surrounded by his family. A man of 'an almost morbid timidity', he turns away from the cameras to examine one of his own inventions, the wave model (c.1840) by which he demonstrated the wave properties of light.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 735

Events of 1851back to top

Current affairs

A population census is taken of all the people living in Britain, recording details about every householder on the night of March 30. This census greatly extends the fields of the 1841 census, being the first to record full details of individuals' birth locations, exact age, marital status, and details of disability, thus making it a valuable tool for demographers and genealogists. The census was made open for public inspection in 1912.

Art and science

The Great Exhibition is held in London,at the Crystal Palace, especially designed by Sir Joseph Paxton. The international exhibition was designed to showcase the best in science, art and industry. it attracted millions of visitors.
Lizzie Siddal poses for John Millais's painting Ophelia.
Hermann von Helmotz invents the ophthalmoscope, making it possible for doctors to examine within a patient's eye.


Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, President of the French Republic, stages a coup d'état, successfully dissolving the French National Assembly without having the constitutional right to do so. Now the sole ruler of France, he re-establishes universal suffrage, previously abolished by the Assembly and becomes 'Napoléon III, Emperor of the French'.

Tell us more back to top

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Gillian Leyland

03 September 2017, 20:24

My grandmothers maiden name was Agnes Georgina Wheatstone born about 1884 and lived in Fownhope Hereford. We were always told she was sir Charles Wheatstone's daughter. Could this be true?

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