Victorian London - Photography and Optical - Victorian Optical Devices - Zoopraxiscope

    READERS of the ‘Echoes’ in the Illustrated London News may remember that, some two or three years ago, I took the liberty of introducing them to Muybridge,’ who (hitherto an unknown quantity in my mind) had introduced himself by sending me from Palo Alto, in California, a number of very curious productions, being instantaneous photographs of the various attitudes of a fast-trotting horse in motion. One could scarcely help being struck, and admiringly struck, first by the ingenuity of the idea itself; next by the phenomenal celerity of the operation (the photographing of each attitude occupying, so I heard, only the five-thousandth part of a second); and, finally, by the unutterably hideous aspect of the attitudes assumed by the animal in the various stages of trotting. These attitudes, however, the operator asserts to be the true and natural ones; while, on the other hand, he as stoutly asserts that the accepted, conventional, traditional, and artistic rendering of the movements of the horse are, and have been (with a few Greek exceptions), altogether false amid unnatural these forty centuries since. So I spake Muybridge fair, and exhorted him to persevere in his experiments.
   He has so persevered, and has largely developed them. On Monday, 6th March, in the theatre at the Royal Institution, a select and representative audience assembled to witness a series of most interesting demonstrations of animal locomotion, given by Mr. Muybridge, who ins only very recently arrived in England. The Prince and Princess of Wales, Princesses Victoria, Louise, and Maud, and the Duke of Edinburgh, honoured the occasion by their presence ; likewise did I note among the brilliant company Earl Stanhope, Sir Frederick Leighton, P.R.A., Professors Huxley, Gladstone, and Tyndali; and last, not least, Alfred Tennyson, Poet-Laureate. Mr. Muybridge exhibited a large number of photographs of the horse, walking, ambling, galloping, and leaping; and the postures were quite as hideous as those in the sun-pictures which had been sent me from California; but, by the aid of an astonishing apparatus, called a ‘Zoopraxiscope,’ which the lecturer described as an improvement on the old ‘Zoetrope,’ but which may be more briefly defined as a magic lantern run mad (with method in the madness), the ugly animals suddenly became motile and beautiful, and walked, cantered, ‘ambled, galloped, and leaped over hurdles in the field of vision in a perfectly natural and lifelike manner. I am afraid that, had Muybridge exhibited his ‘Zoopraxiscope’ three hundred years ago, he would have been burnt for a wizard.
After the horses, dogs, oxen, wild bulls, and deer were shown under analogous conditions of varied movement, and finally Man appeared (in instantaneous photography) on the scene, and walked, ran, leaped, and turned back-somersaults to admiration. On the following Thursday Mr. Muybridge repeated his demonstrations before the members of the Royal Academy at Burlington House.
   Mr. Muybridge is as modest as he is clever; and in his prefatory remarks he did not omit to do full justice to the labours in this particular field of research of Mr. J. H. Walsh (‘Stonehenge’), the editor of the Field. That learned authority, in The Horse in the Stable and the Field (London Routledge), pp. 131 —133, has accurately discriminated between the received and the correct interpretation of the gallop by painters and sculptors. Says ‘Stonehenge:’ ‘To represent the gallop pictorially in a perfectly correct manner is almost impossible. At all events, it has never yet been accomplished, the ordinary and received interpretation being altogether erroneous. Nevertheless, if’ a proper interpretation is given, the eye at once rebels; and on examination of such a figure, founded on perfectly correct principles, the mind refuses to assent to the idea of great pace, which is that which is intended to be given.’

George Augustus Sala Living London 1882