Paracelsus (Paint on Cellophane)
Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Not on View

During the mid-1950s, Sommer began a series of camera-less photographs. While the practice of creating photographic prints without the use of a camera had been pioneered in the 1920s by Man Ray and László Mohology-Nagy, Sommer used his skills as a painter and draftsman to take the process in a completely new direction. To create these images, Sommer made a synthetic negative by painting on cellophane with oil paint, which was then place onto sensitized paper. The opacity of the oil, under surface tension, produced an image that when suspended between two plates of glass could be placed in an enlarger and used as a negative to print a photograph.

"Paracelsus," with its remarkable distribution of tones and textures, is suggestive of a gleaming, armored torso. Sommer titled this photograph after Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus (1493-1541), a noted figure in the realms of alchemy and medical science. Sommer was among those who sought the reintegration of physics and metaphysics.


  • Artist Name: Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
  • Title: Paracelsus (Paint on Cellophane)
  • Date: 1959
  • Medium: Gelatin silver print
  • Dimensions: Image: 13-1/2 x 10-1/4 in. (34.3 x 26 cm)
  • Credit Line: Norton Simon Museum, Gift of the Artist
  • Accession Number: PH.1965.1.05
  • Copyright: ©Frederick & Frances Sommer Foundation

Object Information

A Tribute to Frederick Sommer, 1905-1999

  • Norton Simon Museum, 1999-12-22 to 2000-03-26

From 1839: Revolution in a Box: A Historical Society of Photographica in Two Parts

  • Riverside, University of California, Art Gallery, 1970-01-08 to 1973-03-11

Fredrick Sommer: Master Photographer

  • Norton Simon Museum, 1990-02-15 to 1990-09-02

Frederick Sommer at Seventy-five

  • California State University, Long Beach. University Art Museum, 1980-02-11 to 1980-03-09
  • Seattle Art Museum Pavillion, 1980-04-03 to 1980-05-25
  • Tuscon, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tuscon, 1980-08-24 to 1980-09-25
  • University of New Mexico, Art Museum, 1980-10-12 to 1980-11-16
  • New York, Grey Gallery, New York University, 1980-12 to 1981-01
  • Ithaca, Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University, 1981-02-03 to 1981-03-15
  • Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, 1981-04-03 to 1981-05-03
  • Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1981-05-22 to 1981-07-05
  • New York, International Center for Photography, 1981-08-14 to 1981-09-20
  • London, Arts Council, 1981-10-20 to 1981-11-20

Frederick Sommer

  • Pasadena, Pasadena Art Museum, 1965-05-25 to 1965-06-27

Selections from the Permanent Collection of Photography

  • Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, 1973-06-05 to 1973-07-29

Man and His Environment

  • Pasadena, Pasadena Art Museum, 1972-02-08 to 1972-04-16

Impossible Realities: Marcel Duchamp and the Surrealist Tradition

  • Norton Simon Museum, 1991-07-04 to 1992-03-08

The Collectible Moment: Photographs in the Norton Simon Museum

  • Norton Simon Museum, 2006-10-13 to 2007-02-26

Radical Past: Contemporary Art and Music in Pasadena, 1960-1974

  • Norton Simon Museum, 1999-02-07 to 1999-06-06
  • Armory Center for the Arts, 1999-02-07 to 1999-04-11
  • Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, Calif.), 1999-02-07 to 1999-04-25
  • Armory Center for the Arts/Art Center College of Design, Radical Past: Contemporary Art & Music in Pasadena, 1960-1974, 1999, p. 29
  • Gloria Williams, The Collectible Moment: Catalogue of Photographs in the Norton Simon Museum, 2006, cat. 350 p. 243
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Additional Artwork by Artist

Untitled (Cut Paper) Frederick Sommer 1962
Untitled (Cut Paper) Frederick Sommer 1963
Untitled (Nude Standing) Frederick Sommer 1961
Untitled (Paint on Cellophane) Frederick Sommer 1957

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