“From Today, Painting is Dead” — What the Invention of Photography Tells Us About AI

A surprisingly optimistic tale!

George Dillard
5 min readMay 17, 2023
One of the earliest daguerreotypes, 1837 (public domain)

The French painter Paul Delaroche — famous for his paintings of historical figures like Queen Elizabeth I — saw one of the first daguerreotypes at an 1840 exhibition and immediately proclaimed, “From today, painting is dead!”

Delaroche was wrong, but I can understand why he felt this way.

His stock in trade was painting dramatic scenes from history. We can get a good sense of his abilities and artistic interests by looking at his portraits of Peter the Great as master of Russia and a dejected, dethroned Napoleon. He aimed to capture important events and people in a way that combined impeccable attention to detail with a flair for the melodramatic.

Napoleon and Peter the Great, both by Paul Delaroche (public domain)

Imagine the flood of thoughts and emotions that must have rushed through Delaroche’s mind when he saw that early daguerreotype. It must have hit him like a ton of bricks.

By 1840, Delaroche had achieved prominence in the art world. He had mastered his craft after a long and difficult period of training. He spent months, sometimes more, on…