Schweig's name appears several times in the records of pioneer photography. In 1839, after attending a presentation by Daguerre, he demonstrated the daguerreotype process in Strasbourg, then in the German cities of Heilbron and Stuttgart. He won a bronze medal at the French Industrial Exhibition in 1844, and then moved to The Hague or Antwerp before settling in Paris in 1853. Schweig was one of those travelling photographers who are counted as early 'disciples' of Daguerre
The model in this portrait is Philibert Pompée (1809-1874), a republican, the headmaster of the Turgot school in Paris and later mayor of Ivry-sur-Seine. His posture, with his elbow draped over his seat, his head and chest leaning slightly forward, his fingers loosely interlaced, is strikingly natural. It is far removed from the stiffness of early daguerreotype portraits. Since 1839, photographers had indeed found the chemical means to shorten exposure times. Thus, Louis-Auguste Bisson (1814-1876) declared in June 1841 that he could make a portrait in one and a half seconds.
The scene is set in Paris on the terrace of the Athénée, near the Palais-Royal. Famous during the Romantic period and under the Second Empire (when it was renamed the "Estaminet des Nations"), the café was a favourite haunt of Alexandre Dumas and Gérard de Nerval. The latter describes it extensively in his October Nights: "On the ground floor, the café and billiards; on the second floor, fencing and boxing; on the third, the daguerreotype, an instrument of patience which is designed for weary minds and which, destroying all illusions, confronts each figure with the mirror of truth."
This beautiful portrait not only immortalises nineteenth-century social practices but confirms that photography very quickly led to instantaneity. It did so sporadically for a number of years, yet sufficiently so to be able to contribute subtly to a changing view of the world.