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19th Century Gallery

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Profile Portrait of a Man

c. 1845-1856
19th Century
3 x 2 x 1/2 in. (7.6 x 5.1 x 1.3 cm)

Marcus Aurelius Root, American, (1808–1888)

Object Type: PHOTOGRAPHY
Creation Place: North America
Medium and Support: Daguerreotype
Credit Line: Purchased with funds from the Art Angels
Accession Number: 14-Ph-168
Gallery Label:

With the invention of the Daguerreotype in France in 1839, an accurate likeness could be obtained for just a few dollars. The low price made it difficult for artists to compete, and many miniature painters switched to the new medium of photography, sometimes adding color tinting to black and white images. Daguerreotype portraits quickly became very popular, and photography studios proliferated in many cities. Philadelphia led the way. By 1856 there were more than one hundred photographers operating in the city, with studios clustered east of Broad Street along Chestnut and Market, and north on 2nd Street. Photographers continued to experiment with processes and chemicals to improve the quality of the images, gradually making way for the kinds of photographs with which we are familiar today.

Like small painted portraits on ivory, early photographic portraits were displayed and protected in hard decorative cases lined in velvet. The portraits were unique originals with no negatives. In the 1890s George Eastman’s introduction of flexible rolled negative film and the Kodak camera led to more widespread general interest in photography.

Daguerreotypes were popular from 1839 through the 1860s but continued in use well beyond this time. The image was set on a polished silver-coated metal plate, without any chemical emulsion; the plate was encased in glass to prevent the silver from tarnishing. The polished silver surface created a mirrored reflection and a somewhat ghostly effect.
Current Location: Art Museum : 19 C Gallery : Case

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