The Daguerreian Society



From The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine Vol. 68, No. 1 (1904) pp. 81-82. The article preceded the often-referenced Abraham Bogardus article, "The Lost Art of the Daguerreotype" which we also offer.


THE CHARMING DAGUERREOTYPE
BY PAULINE KING

hort of an artist's fine handiwork, there has never been any means of reproducing the human face which has had the charm of the daguerreotype. The term "photographic," which is commonly used to designate the limitations of a too hard manner of drawing or painting, cannot be applied to it; for the soft, luminous shadows, the melting flesh-tones, the reality of life, are such that they may well excite the admiration and envy of skilful portrait-painters. This has been fully realized by connoisseurs, who have included large collections of daguerreotypes among their object d'art, and the appreciation has extended until now there is a general searching for good examples of the art.
    The collector concerns himself first of all with artistic qualities. He soon finds that there are not so many available portraits of celebrities as would be supposed, and often as specimens of work these are poor, and valuable only for the likeness. Though it might be thought that a number of pictures of quite unknown persons would be dull and monotonous, yet this is not at all the effect that a collection makes, even upon the minds of those who are unbiased by a special enthusiasm. For not only has the daguerreotype in itself elements that are sufficiently strong to make it entirely desirable for its own sake, but there is also an astonishing variety in the subject: there is no sameness of physiognomies, such as is inevitable with retouched plate; and the individual charm or character of the sitter is presented in so unspoiled and unmodified a manner that one seems to be looking at reflections made permanent on tiny looking-glasses.
    The practice was in its greatest popularity in the middle of the last century. This was the period of the crinoline and the poke-bonnet, of the picturesque high stock and quaint long coat. Though the fashion of clothes was then strangely ugly, yet this very oddity has an interest for us now. The worst modes of a tasteless era cannot disguise the strong, manly faces that appear above the awkward, ill-fitting garments. And how often, when a well-worn case is opened, it discloses a vision of sweet femininity, her parted hair smoothly arranged and drawn down over her ears, and in her soft, dove-like eyes a modest, demure expression which adds the last charm to her distinguished beauty! What a subtle fragrance of delicate sentiment lingers about her! It seems scarcely possible, so natural does she appear in all the grace of her youth, thrilling with hope and life, that the sitter may have been dead for half a century, or, if still living, is now a wrinkled dame, grandmother or great-aunt, as her fate has held.
    Although the presentations of these fair and charming women are naturally the most pleasing of the daguerreotype, yet the fidelity of reproduction seems equally fortunate and admirable when the rounded contours of early life have changed to the sterner outlines of middle years and the wrinkles of age. The characteristic faces of men in their prime, stout elderly matrons, and old gentlemen and gentlewomen who reflect the tastes of a still earlier date, sustain the interest of a collection.
    They did their work well, those modest portraitists who lived when New York was so small a place that it was not found to be inconvenient to patronize Gurney, whose gallery was on Broadway facing John street, Lawrence, who was on the same street below Fulton, and the still surviving veteran Abraham Bogardus, on the corner of Greenwich and Barclay streets. Southworth & Hawes were then most prominent in Boston, and Van Name[Van Loan -Ed.] & Richards in Philadelphia.
    Any one who possesses a daguerreotype with one of these names stamped upon the case may assure himself that he has an interesting specimen of this bygone art; and as the profession had a numerous following, until almost every city and town boasted its gallery, there are many other daguerreotypists whose fame is equally honorable.
    Who shall rediscover for us this lost and charming art?

(End of text. Please refer to our textnote regarding this text.)

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