Levitsky, Sergey


Sergey Lvovich Levitsky (17 August 1819, Moscow - 22 June 1898, St. Petersburg) - Russian court photographer. He was the illegitimate son of Senator Lev Yakovlev, cousin of Alexander Herzen. Sergey graduated from the law faculty of Moscow University in 1839, then worked in St. Petersburg, in the office of the Ministry for Internal Affairs, but devoted all free time to his favourite pursuits: galvanism, electroplating, and especially daguerreotype. To denote the process of obtaining prints on paper, Levitsky proposed the term "light painting". He improved the skills in daguerreotype during the joint inspection trip to the Caucasus in 1843 for the mineral waters environmental study. In this expedition, Levitsky shot several views of Pyatigorsk, Kislovodsk, mountains Mashuk and Beshtau.

In 1844, Levitsky, deciding to devote himself to photography, retired and took a trip to Europe to listen to a course in physics and chemistry at the Sorbonne with the aim of further training and improving his skills.

On the way to Paris, Sergey Lvovich seized every opportunity to expand his knowledge, meeting with lenses manufacturers and studying the advantages of various chemical processes.

In Rome, Levitsky made group photo of Russian artists and sculptors, Nikolai Gogol was among them. The photo made him famous. This unique image of Gogol was enlarged and then replicated in the form of a "single" portrait. This was the only photo of Gogol was enlarged and then replicated in the form of a "single" portrait.

In Paris, he met Louis Daguerre, examined the experiments in the process of colour photography by Niepce de Saint-Victor, and studied under the famous photographers of his time. His daguerreotypes received gold medal at the Paris exhibition in 1851. He did not collect the award, since a year earlier he left for St. Petersburg because of the beginning revolution in France.

Very soon after his returning to the Russian Empire, the first "Daguerreotype institution of Sergey Levitsky" was opened on the Nevsky Prospect in St. Petersburg. It was slightly rebranded later and transformed into "Light Painting by Levitsky». His studio was incredibly popular, his acquaintance with creative people contributed to this. Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Ostrovsky and Ivan Goncharov posturized for portraits by Levitsky. Later, members of the Imperial family were his clients. In 1858, American photographer Warren Thompson invited Levitsky to run his atelier in Paris, and in May 1859, the photographer with his family came to the French capital.

Soon Levitsky opened his own studio on Rue Choiseul, 22 in Paris.

In 1860, Levitsky applied negative retouching, persuading Faber's firm to start making special pencils for this.

In 1864, for the portraits of Napoleon III and his family, shot in Fontainebleau, Levitsky was awarded with the title "Photographer of the Emperor Napoleon III" and became a member of the French photographic society.

Travelling between St/ Petersburg and Paris, he was constantly looking for something new, which was naturally reflected in his work. Skillfully created shots, where the hero was "duplicated", became the peculiar feature of Sergey Levitsky work. A person on the photo plays the piano and listens to his own playing, or shakes hands with himself. The most famous of these collages was Herzen vs. Herzen, where the photographer's cousin had dramatic debate with his own copy.

The main difficulty that Levitsky faced while shooting, was the geographical position and lack of day light in St. Petersburg during wintertime. On the initiative of Dmitry Mendeleev, Levitsky was the first to begin experiments with shooting with artificial lighting. One of the first in Russia, Levitsky began to use shooting with electric arc, electric lighting, and using bromogelatine plates.

Levitsky notarized the copyright for the photographs of the Imperial family and had the personal permission of the Romanovs to use these photographs for commercial purposes "as artistic property". Moreover, when in 1877 he appealed to Alexander II for the title of The Imperial Majesty photographer for himself and his son," he almost immediately was confer the dignity of the Imperial Court photographer “together with the right to put the image of the state coat of arms on the signboard".

Sergey Levitsky was awarded with many foreign and Russian orders and medals; time and again, he received the highest awards at international photo exhibitions. At the invitation of the Treasury Department, he was the "expert in light painting" at three World Exhibitions; also was a member of the jury during the International Paris Exhibition of 1878, the first photographic exhibition in Russia in St. Petersburg (1888), etc.

He took pictures of four generations of the Romanov dynasty; Levitsky had the exclusive right of artistic property for the portraits of Emperor and Empress of Russia.

The photographer's legacy is vast; it features the entire gallery of portraits of the prominent persons of Russian literature and art. The professional manner of Levitsky is characterized by deep penetration into the portrayed person, by the accurate documentation of his or her individual features.

Sergey Levitsky also wrote scientific articles for the Russian magazine "Photograph". He wrote memoirs in two volumes entitled “The Reminiscences of an Old Photographer” (1892) and “How I Became a Photographer” (1896).

The prominent photographer died in St. Petersburg. He is buried in the Smolensk cemetery. Upon his father’s death in 1898, his son Rafael Levitsky continued the operation and tradition of the Levitsky portrait studio.