Louis Aimé Augustin The Prince

Louis Aimé Augustin The Prince , born in Metz on1 and mysteriously disappearedIs a chemist, engineer and inventor French , one of the pioneers of cinema.



He is the son of a regular soldier and officer of the Legion of Honor [ref. necessary] . He grew up spending a lot of time in the studio of a pioneer of photography, Louis Daguerre , a friend of his father. He receives chemistry lessons from Daguerre and is introduced to photography. He poses as a model for a Daguerreotype , the oldest form of photography. He studied painting in Paris and chemistry at the University of Leipzig .

England and photographs

In 1868 , he moved to Leeds in West Yorkshire in England after being invited to join a friend of the university, John Whitley, in the Whitley Partners of Hunslet  (in) , a company of brass founders manufacturing valves and components. In 1869 , he married Elizabeth Whitley, John’s sister and talented artist. In 1871 , Louis and his wife create a school of applied art, The Leeds Technical School of Art. They gained fame in the art of fixing color photographs on metal and pottery, which led them to realize the portraits of Queen Victoria and Premier William Gladstone , portraits that are enclosed in a time capsule , constructed by Whitley Partners of Hunslet, placed in the foundations of Cleopatra’s obelisk on the banks of the Thames .

US and “moving pictures”

In 1881 , Louis Le Prince left for the United States as an agent of Whitley Partners , where he stayed with his family after the expiry of his contract. He becomes manager of a group of French artists. During this period he continues his experiments on the production of “moving photographs”. He manufactures a camera with sixteen lenses, which he lays down. This camera is a technique developed jointly by the Frenchman Étienne-Jules Marey and the Englishman Eadweard Muybridge , that of chronophotography, using different methods to decompose, and then study, the movements of human beings or animals, and in general any phenomenon too fast to be analyzed by the gaze (examples: drop of a drop of water, explosions or chemical reactions) . The Prince uses sixteen optics in front of sixteen glass plates coated with photosensitive material ( collodion ), the snapshots of which are produced by a succession of openings and closures ultra-fast of as many shutters. After developing the negative and printing on paper, these chronophotographies can be observed one by one.

Back to Leeds and first film essays

Leeds England – a commemorative plaque

After returning to Leeds in 1886 , Louis Le Prince built and patented thean animated camera equipped with a single lens, using a non-perforated paper tape, coated with collodion, as do at the same time Étienne-Jules Marey by adapting such bands to his photographic rifle that did not allow until then 12 shots on glass plate or Thomas Edison and his assistant William Kennedy Laurie Dickson . Like them, he makes conclusive tests in Leeds and especially on October 14, 1888 on the property of his in-laws in Roundhay, a suburb of Leeds , called Oakwood Barn(“Barn of the oak grove”). It turns two or three seconds of photograms capturing the movement of characters on the move. But, like Edison and Dickson, he can not manage to project the fragile ribbon which surplus is opaque (the Lumière brothers , at the beginning of their research in 1894 , will also use the paper ribbon, without trying to project it).

A scene in the Roundhay Garden  : the original 20 vignettes, which can not be seen or projected in motion ( 1888 )
A scene in the Roundhay Garden , stills reproduced on 35 mm filmin 1930

The silent short film by 2 seconds known for Roundhay Garden Scene , which is a reproduction of the film 35 mm carried out in 1930 from fixed frames of The Prince, is one of the first films trials (with those including the Edison-Dickson couple dating from the same year, titled Monkeyshines) , given the date of death (October 24, 1888 ) of one of the characters who then appears alive. Towards the end of the same month, Louis Le Prince uses his device to photograph trams , carriages and pedestrians on the Leeds Bridge (Leeds Bridge)) and his son playing the accordion. Are these pictures projected on a screen in Leeds, one by one, by a magic lantern? In any event, this alleged projection still feeds nowadays unverifiable thesis of the first public projection film, but no document or evidence, other than the relatives of The Prince is coming from to support this allegation 2 . On this date, The Prince is undoubtedly on track with his device that has been called “Mk2”, but it lacks, as all researchers, a step, that of invention in 1888 by the American John Carbutt transparent cellulose nitratetransparent film , marketed in 1889 by the American industrialistGeorge Eastman , in the form of slabs 70 mm wide 3 . The Prince, unfortunately, dies or disappears before the commercialization of this fundamental invention that ends the so-called precinema period . David Wilkinson’s DVD of the film has been screened in many European festivals in Russia as well as in the United States (see the magazine “Variety” and can be purchased at AMAZON.UK (zone 2).

Jacques Pfend, film historian, specialist of The Prince, reports the existence of a mail dated August 18, 1887 , sent from Paris by Augustin Le Prince to his wife, then in New York, in which he entrusts the the state of its work and cites in particular an experimentation in Paris, at the corner of avenue Trudaine and rue Bochart – de – Saron , a few days before. To this mail, The Prince joins a series of pictures taken sequentially at the rate of 32 frames per second on gelatin film support, known as Man Around the Corner .

The unexplained disappearance

In September 1890 , Louis Le Prince was preparing to return to the United Kingdom to patent a projection device, having planned to then go to the United States to promote it. Before his trip, he decided to return home to see his friends and family, then left Bourges on September 13 to meet his brother in Dijon. On September 16, he boarded a train to Paris (as evidenced by a letter from his nieces to his daughters); on the arrival of this train, we discover that there is no trace of The Prince aboard 4 . There is no body or luggage in cars or along the track. No strange or aggressive behavior is reported among travelers 4 .

The French police, Scotland Yard and the family, are undertaking exhaustive searches that are unsuccessful. The reality and scope of this investigation have since been called into question, as several historians have failed to find in the archives of the National Police the slightest dossier The Prince, or any other document relating to the case; moreover, Albert The Prince would not have deposited a handrail to announce the disappearance of his brother 5 . However, a print from the Prefecture of Police, dated 1900 and preserved in the family archives of Memphis, reported the failure of research (and thus corroborate their existence) 6 .

Four main theories, relatively poorly documented and more hypothetical, have been proposed to explain the events:

  1. The perfect suicide
    In 1928 , the grandson of Albert Le Prince told the historian Georges Potonnie that Louis Le Prince wanted to commit suicide, being on the verge of bankruptcy. His suicide would have been arranged so that his body and his luggage would never be found. However, Potonniée notes that the affairs of the Prince were profitable, he was proud of his invention, and had thereby no reason to commit suicide 7 . This is not the opinion of all historians. Christopher Rawlence, in particular, claims that The Prince was short of resources and riddled with debt, and unable to confess to his family his inability to develop a reliable projection apparatus for the New York exhibition,8 .
  2. Disappearance organized by the family
    In 1966 , in his Comparative History of Cinema , Jacques Deslandes states that The Prince disappears voluntarily for financial reasons and “family conventions”. The journalist Léo Sauvage clarifies this theory, having seen the note taken in 1974 by Pierre Gras, director of the municipal library of Dijon: a historian of the cinema had told Pierre Gras that The Prince died in Chicago in 1898 , “voluntary disappearance required by the family (homosexuality) “. Sauvage stresses the implausibility of this statement, and there is no evidence in the family documents to suggest that The Prince was homosexual 9. Furthermore, research to find a Louis Le Prince in cemeteries in Chicago have failed 10 .
  3. Fratricide for money matters
    In 1976 , Jean Mitry proposes, in Histoire du cinéma , the theory that Le Prince was killed. Mitry notes that if The Prince had really wanted to disappear, he could easily have done it before this train trip. It is thus unlikely to be boarded the train to Dijon, and questions of fact on his brother Albert The Prince, who is the last person to see him alive 11 . Leo Wild takes this hypothesis, suggesting that Albert Prince wished, for the murder, his brother prevent squandering the inheritance of their mother 12 . It seems indeed that the visit of 14 September in Dijon was intended to solve problems related to maternal inheritance,1887 13 .
  4. Assassination due to the patent war (“Equity 6928”)
    Christopher Rawlence studies, among other theories, that of assassination. He comments on the family’s The Prince’s suspicions about Edison’s patent (Equity 6928) in his documentary The Missing Reel . At the time of his disappearance, The Prince is preparing to patent his 1889 projector in the United Kingdom , and to leave Europefor the official presentation of the device, planned in New York. His widow suspects a criminal act, although no concrete evidence has ever emerged (Rawlence falls back on the theory of suicide). Moreover, at the time of the facts, Edison is no longer interested in the research of others, his recent, after the sale by Eastman of its flexible support and the development by Edison and Dickson of the film 35 mm to 4 sets of rectangular perforations which he filed international patents in 1891. On the other hand, in a crime, sponsored or not, the motive is one of the three fundamental elements (weapon, body, mobile), and we do not see what Edison would have won by suppressing The Prince who had not neither the financial means nor the industrial means to shade the American inventor and industrialist. In 1898 , the eldest son of Louis Le Prince, Adolphe, who assisted his father on many of his experiments, was called as a witness by the Mutoscope Company who had committed the counterfeit of Kinetoscope (device invented and marketed by Edison, allowing to watch individually by a peephole movies shot with the Kinetic). The Mutoscope, through the invention of The Prince, claims to prove that Edison is not the inventor of his camera, the Kinetic. Lizzie (the widow of The Prince) and Adolphe see an opportunity to recognize the work of the deceased, but the case turned against the American company, found guilty of forgery, their hopes are disappointed and abandoned.

Louis The Prince is officially declared dead in 1897 14 . The photograph of a drowned man resembling The Prince, dating from 1890 , was discovered in the Paris police archives in 2003 15 .

In 1902 , two years after testifying at Equity 6928, his son Adolphe Le Prince was found dead, shot with a revolver, while hunting the duck on Fire Island, near New York.


  • Georges Sadoul , General History of Cinema – Volume I , Éditions Denoël , Paris 1947-1975
  • Leo Sauvage , The Light Affair p.  157-167, Éditions Lherminier, Paris 1985 ( ISBN  2-86244-045-0 )
  • Christopher Rawlence, The Missing Reel. The Untold Story of the Inventor of Moving Pictures , William Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., Glasgow, 1989-90 ( ISBN  978-0689120688 )
  • Christopher Rawlence, Warum verschwand Augustin The Prince? Die mysteriöse Geschichte des Erfinders der bewegten Bilder , Verlagsgesellschaft, Köln, 1991 ( ISBN  3-8025-2209-5 )
  • Béatrice Nicodème , The Enigma Leprince , Timée Éditions, 2008 ( ISBN  9782354010881 ) , and in digital edition  [ archive ] 2013 .
  • Jacques Pfend, Louis Aimé Augustin Leprince, pioneer of the moving picture, and his family , Sarreguemines, self-publisher, ( ISBN  978-2-9542441-9-8 ).

Notes and references

  1. ↑ HTTP://archives.metz.fr/4DCGI/WEB_RegistreVisuImgAppelExterne/306028_1Exzxb447/ILUMP9999  [ archive ] Municipal Archives of Metz. Records of the year 18841. 1st section. (dimension 1E / b447) view 50 Birth certificate No. 155.
  2. ↑ A feature documentary, taking advantage to affirm the primacy of the films of The Prince on Edison and Light was directed under the title The first film by David Wilkinson , with the participation of comedian Tom Courtenay and duscenarian of “Basic Instinct”, Joe Eszterhas , whose “premiere” took place in Edinburgh in 2015
  3. ↑ Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin, “film grammar” on page 15, New World Publishing, Paris, 2010 ( ISBN 978-2-84736-458-3 ) , 588 pages
  4. ↑ a and b Irenaeus Dembowski, ”  The birth of cinema: a hundred and seven years and a crime …  ”  [ archive ] , Alliage, number 22, 1995 , (accessed October 14, 2008 )
  5. ↑ Jean-Jacques and Jacques Aulas Pfend, Louis Aimé Augustin Leprince, inventor and artist, forerunner of cinema  [ archive] , paragraphs 89 and 90, accessed August 15, 2012
  6. ↑ Ibid  [ archive ] , paragraph 89: “The head of the 1 st Bureau 1 st Division honored to inform Made [sic] Leprince, by returning the attached photograph, that research which Mr. Leprince, Louis Aimé Auguste, her husband, was the object in the spring of the Prefecture remained unsuccessful. “
  7. ↑ Dembowski (1995): “1928, George Potonniée advance another hypothesis … – Augustin Le Prince committed suicide He was at the verge of bankruptcy..”
  8. ↑ Ibid  [ archive ] , paragraphs 96, 102 and Bibliographical notes (“Books and articles on Leprince”)
  9. ↑ Leo Wild, ”  a mysterious episode in the history of cinema: The death of Prince  ,” Historia , No. 430 bis, in September 1982, p.  45-51.
  10. ↑ Jean-Jacques and Jacques Aulas Pfend, ibid  [ archive ] , paragraph 95.
  11. ↑ Dembowski (1995): “If that were so, why did he not do anything to prevent him from realizing his disastrous project, why did he not warn the police in time?”
  12. ↑ Leo Wild, ”  a mysterious episode in the history of cinema: The death of Prince  ,” Historia , No. 430 bis, in September 1982, p.  51.
  13. ↑ Jean-Jacques and Jacques Aulas Pfend, ibid  [ archive ] , paragraphs 74 and 102
  14. ↑ ( in ) Hannavy, John (Editor), Encyclopedia of nineteenth-century photography , flight.  1, CRC Press, ( ISBN 978-0-415-97235-2 , read online  [ archive ] ) , p.  837
  15. ↑ ( in ) Stephen Herbert , ”  Louis Le Prince  ”  [ archive ] , Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema (accessed 26 August 2006 )

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