Young America. The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes. George Eastman House International Center of Photography
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PUBLIC PORTRAITURE view | Sitter BIOGRAPHIES

Many urban daguerreotype studios sought the patronage of notable sitters and specialized in making likenesses for public consumption, which often were translated into woodcuts, lithographs, and engravings for mass reproduction. Photography made it possible for people to see the actual face and form of individuals about whom they had read in the press and talked of in conversation. Galleries of politicians, generals, ministers, philanthropists, actors, dancers, poets, and notorious personalities were assembled and displayed in exhibition rooms attached to daguerreotype studios as draws to the public.

Southworth & Hawes specialized in serving the portraiture needs of the famous. Their advertisements stated, “Whenever our friends introduce individuals on whom the public have a claim on account of station or talent, and wish for their likenesses for the public, we will do our duty and bear our share in the expense.” They approached public portraiture with a different aesthetic than those made for private consumption. “A likeness for an intimate acquaintance or one’s own family should be marked by that amiability and cheerfulness, so appropriate to the social circle and the home- fireside. Those for the public, of official dignitaries and celebrated characters admit of more firmness, sternness and soberness.” The portraits of Rufus Choate, Daniel Webster, and Lemuel Shaw are masterpieces of public portraiture.

Painters such as George Healy made appointments for his notable sitters with Southworth & Hawes for daguerreotypes to serve his work. James T. Fields brought Charles Dickens to the studio several times, and Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes visited often.

Although it was taken as an honor to serve some celebrities, doing so for the self-important was less tolerable. Southworth, writing of the trials of the daguerreotypist, stated, “He must be patient with those who have patronizing airs, and endeavor to make him feel that they do him a great honor to allow him to take their likenesses.” Hawes complained that Louis Kossuth did not pay for his likeness. Nancy reported to her brother in California, “Miss (Dorothea) Dix sat for her daguerreotype a few days ago. She was too much in haste and fidgety and serious to get a fine picture.”

Nancy reported more favorably on the visit of another distinguished celebrity. “Grace Greenwood…called here last week, she shook hands with me!! Admired the daguerreotypes, saw her one at the door, and did not even request to have it taken away; so you see I intend to like her very much for the future.” The British daguerreotypist John Mayall asked for a portrait of Emerson. Nancy reported, “Mr. Emerson promised to come in and sit for us and Mr. Hawes intended to make a nice picture of him and send in exchange for one of Daguerre, which Mayall says he has.”

Southworth & Hawes took the opportunity to make many exposures when a celebrity sat. Dorothea Dix complained because so many copies were made, when she had given express orders to have only three taken.

They were not impervious to the potential of profiting through selling copies of celebrity portraits, as their advertisements indicated, “We never sell or dispose of likenesses without written order from the one for whom they are taken; except those whose position or standing before the public make it right and proper for worthy and laudable purposes.”

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