The Printed Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) Digitized and Put On-line

Jean-François Vincent
BIU Santé, Service d'histoire de la santé

March 2006

Marey is quite famous among the cultivated general public. His fame, however, is of a very unusual nature, as one may say that he is often known merely "by sight", and also under a distorted identity he would not have recognized as his own.

Indeed, Marey's memory is essentially conveyed through images, hung on museum walls or reproduced in journals and art books. It is true that a large part of Marey's work is visual. Many people interested in art or even in the history of science and technology do not know Marey's name, but can nonetheless call to mind the strange figures of white mimes indulging in austere motions on a black background, and the strokes of birds' wings multiplied in a single photograph, offering a spectacle of time that both unfolds and is immobilized in one single image.

Of course, Marey is not the only scientist to have left us with such a strong visual impression. [1]

Nevertheless, there hardly ever is such a gap between what the author tried to achieve (and actually did scientifically) and what the collective memory retained of these images and did with them, non-scientifically. Marta Braun sheds light on this point in her brilliant book Picturing Time, explaining that Marey's relationship to art is of an ironic nature. [2]

Marey did believe, and wish, that his work could be of interest to artists; but he believed it would help them move towards greater objective accuracy in the representation of reality. In that respect, Marey must have been happy with his relationship with Jean-Baptiste Edouard Detaille: for his Panthéon fresco « La chevauchée vers la gloire » [3] (« Riding towards Glory »), this respectable academic painter worked directly from photographs of horses taken by Marey.

And yet, we do not believe that Marey's artistic importance lies there, but rather in the fact that, although he certainly did not try to do so, he opened utterly new doors, insofar as his scientific research made him break with the three-dimensional, synchronic representation of reality inherited from the Renaissance. As far as art is concerned, his legacy is found mainly in Duchamp (« Nu descendant un escalier » (« Nude Descending a Staircase »), 1912) and in the work of the futurists (although Marey would probably have considered their paintings to be nonsensical). Marey is also known to have influenced painting by providing the imagination of painters with shapes never before seen (see for instance the definite influence of Marey's aerodynamic experiments on Max Ernst's painting entitled « Blind Swimmer 1: The Effect of Touch » (1934); some of Marey's scientific devices can also be observed in some of Ernst's collages). [4]

If it is a less original kind of influence, for the surrealists are famous for their taste for scientific imagery diverted from its initial purpose, it remains nevertheless a real influence. Marey can thus be said to have helped bring about the liberation of subjectivity in art, which goes against what we know of his own artistic tastes.

And yet the most common mistake concerning Marey does not lie in this extraordinary gap. Marey is usually considered a photographer. His work is also perceived as a major event in the period known as pre-cinema. Although remarkable studies on the totality of his work, placed in an accurate perspective, have been published, these two characterizations are both true (at least partly [5]) and deceptive because too partial. Indeed, they obliterate the fact that Marey, throughout his life, was nothing but a great scientist, and that his interest in the visual was only motivated (and guided) by his scientific goals.

Our first reason for publishing the file on Marey in Medica was to show Marey in another setting than the usual museum walls. We wanted to present a textual, rather than a simply visual, work. We also wished not to disregard too many aspects of Marey's protean work. Let us enumerate the domains in which he made important contributions: animal heat, the workings of the heart, cardiography applied to man, breathing, the nervous system, the muscles, animal mechanics, applied physiology [6], but also cardiac pathology, phonation, epidemiology, aerodynamics and aerial locomotion, hydraulics, ballistics, physical education, the efficiency of motion in production activities, the assessment of the measuring devices used in physiology. One should add to this list the development of numerous scientific instruments and methods of analysis. One should also mention his important academic activity, to which some of the digitized articles testify, throughout a bright career that, from the start, was recognized as such by his peers.

When reading this apparently heterogeneous list, one may rightfully wonder if the digitized library Medica, specialized in documents related to the history of medicine and health, was justified in presenting so large a part of Marey's work. We believed, as did the researchers who studied it thoroughly, that we could not segment Marey's work without mutilating it and rendering it almost incomprehensible. Marey himself was keenly aware of the unity of his work, and he wrote, in his Preface to the first edition of La méthode graphique dans les sciences expérimentales [The Graphic Method in the Experimental Sciences] :

« For the last twenty years, through research on various topics, I have been pursuing the same goal : extending the graphic method and applying it to as many phenomena as possible. Some have said about my work : « It is always the same thing ». Such an appraisal, which probably stems from extreme benevolence, if I ever deserved it, would be the greatest reward for my efforts. It would indicate that I have come closer to my goal, which was to submit a great number of fields of study to one single method, capable, I hope, of leading to rapid developments in science. » [7]

We therefore thought we had to show the diversity of Marey's work if we wanted to do it justice.

Three reasons guided our choices within Marey's work. We wanted: 1) to help modify the perception of Marey among the cultivated public, and to give him back the stature of a great scientist, which he paradoxically lost because of the popularity of his photographic work ; 2) to provide specialists on Marey with abundant material ; 3) to create a better international access to Marey with the digitization of the translated texts that we were able to gather.

The collection of documents presented here does not aim for exhaustiveness, which would be very difficult (and very costly) to achieve. It would possibly be devoid of real interest too, as Marey often published several versions of a given article in different journals; who would wish, except occasionally, to check which details differ across the various versions of an article published in different periodicals at the same date, with approximately the same pagination and under the same title ?

Here is a list of what we tried to digitize. We wish to lay emphasis on the fact that it should be possible to complete this list in accordance with what researchers might need and request :

- all the monographs that we could gather (including Marey's dissertation and his "titres et travaux")

  • all the documents in a language other than French that we could gather

  • all the papers delivered at the Académie des Sciences [8]

  • all the communications published in the Bulletin de l'Académie de médecine [9]

  • all the articles published in the journal La Nature that were not published in another, more prestigious periodical (such as the Comptes rendus de l'Académie des Sciences)

  • the articles published in the Comptes rendus des séances et mémoires de la Société de biologie

  • the articles published in the Revue des cours scientifiques de la France et de l'étranger (later entitled Revue scientifique)

  • the articles published in the Annales des sciences naturelles (zoologie).

The file was occasionally supplemented with various documents found in the course of our research (for instance, the 1902 Hommage à M. Marey [10], and François-Franck's inaugural lecture (1905) [11], which we considered a very interesting testimony from one of Marey's close collaborators.)

But more important, we were fortunate enough to be authorized by the Collège de France to put on-line the reproduction of five of the precious "Marey albums" [12] that are kept in its library. These original volumes are constituted of reprints of articles by Marey or by his close collaborators from the Station physiologique, mixed with first editions of photographs taken during the research work. The purpose of these volumes, assembled between 1882 and 1889, was to show the Parisian authorities -- who distributed subsidies -- the quality of the work they had encouraged. [13]

We cannot say how grateful we are to the Collège de France for entrusting us with these documents.

We also wish to express our deepest thanks to the Académie de médecine for having authorized us to digitize several documents that our library did not have.

The complete file contains 240 documents, or 13,500 pages.

This work could not have been carried through without the bibliographies provided in the following books :

Braun, Marta. Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey, 1830-1904. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1994

Snellen, H. A. E.-J. Marey and Cardiology: Physiologist and Pioneer of Technology, 1830-1904: Selected Writings in Facsimile with Comments and Summaries, a Brief History of Life and Work, and a Bibliography. Rotterdam, Kooyker, c1980

Mannoni, Laurent. Etienne-Jules Marey: la mémoire de l'oeil : [exhibition, Paris, Espace Electra, 13 January-19 March 2000]. - Milan: Mazzotta; [Paris] : Cinémathèque française, cop. 1999

Communications d'Etienne-Jules Marey à l'Académie de médecine. Unpublished document, graciously lent by the Bibliothèque de l'Académie nationale de médecine

This file will be completed in 2007 when the BIUM puts on-line an important collection of glass plates (over 450) digitized by the Collège de France and belonging to its collections. Professor Marta Braun (Ryerson University, Canada) will present these plates, wonderfully described by specialists from the Collège de France.


We would like to express our gratitude to the authors who kindly agreed to entrust us with the texts of their presentations : Professor Simon Bouisset (Université Paris-Sud), Professor Claude Debru (Ecole Normale Supérieure), Professor Thierry Lefebvre (Université Paris 7).

This file could not have been carried through without the help or the benevolence of the following people :

  • Collège de France
    • Professor Jacques Glowinski, Administrator
    • Professor Alain Berthoz
    • Mrs. Marie-Renée Cazabon, Director of the Libraries and Archives Department, and her team
  • Académie de médecine
    • Mrs. Laurence Camous, Director
    • Mrs. Marie Davaine
  • Université Paris-Sud
    • Professor Simon Bouisset


1. The connection that is often made between Da Vinci and Marey makes sense from this point of view too.
2. Braun, Marta. Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey, 1830-1904. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994, p. 316
3. Picturing Time, p. 271
4. Reproduced in Picturing Time, p.316
5. Marey very clearly explained his relation to cinema, which he explicitly and without regret declared was the invention of the Lumière brothers; what he wanted to achieve was an analysis of motion, not its synthetic reproduction. He made cinema possible, but cinema was not his objective.
6. Up to this point, this list corresponds to the titles of the various sections Marey himself used in his Titres et travaux de M. Marey [Mr. Marey's Professional Titles and Research Work] (1868? ) and in Notice sur les titres et travaux scientifiques du Docteur Marey [On Dr. Marey's Professional Titles and Scientific Work] (1876),
7. E.J. Marey, La méthode graphique dans les sciences expérimentales et particulièrement en physiologie et en médecine [The Graphic Method in the Experimental Sciences and more specifically in Physiology and Medicine], Paris, G. Masson, 1878, p XIX. NB: This last page of the introduction is not the same as the page XIX of the 1885 edition, which was reproduced in Medica (). One should therefore not be surprised not to find this quotation in the on-line version of this work. The rest of it, though, seems to be identical to the earlier version, including the final erratum, by which one may understand that the later version is a mere reprint enriched with a « supplement on the photographic development of the graphic method. »
8. We took the liberty of not including a few short notices that seemed to us to be without interest. Any other lacuna would be unintentional.
9. With, again, the voluntary omission of some notes that we thought uninteresting.
11. Cours du Collège de France. Leçon d'ouverture, 3 mai 1905. L'oeuvre de E.J.-Marey, membre de l'Institut et de l'Académie de médecine, professeur au Collège de France de 1869 à 1904 (Lectures at the Collège de France. Inaugural lecture, 3 May 1905. The work of E.J.-Marey, member of the Institute and of the Académie de médecine, Professor at the Collège de France from 1869 to 1904), by Mr. Ch.-A. François-Franck.
12. The Collège de France also authorized us to digitize the 1885 version of La méthode graphique [The Graphic Method], which the BIU Santé does not possess.
13. Picturing Time, p. XIV.

Translation by Karine Debbasch, Université René Descartes - Paris 5