Text: Michael J. Deas, “Early Derivatives of the Osgood Portrait,” The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (1989), pp. 64-71 (This material is protected by copyright)


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­[page 65:]

EARLY DERIVATIVES OF THE OSGOOD PORTRAIT

Although Samuel Osgood’s oil portrait of Poe (fig. 9) is a relatively unfamiliar work to many present-day readers, it was the first likeness of the poet to be widely reproduced after his death in 1849, serving as the standard portrait of him for nearly two decades, between 1850 and 1870. Since photographic reproductions in books and periodicals were still unavailable during the mid-1800s, the Osgood portrait had to be engraved before it could be published; this was done often — on steel, copper, and wood — and with wildly varied results. The earliest derivative of the portrait was the fine mezzotint by John Sartain (fig. 26), completed shortly after Poe’s death and published as the frontispiece to Rufus Griswold’s edition of Poe’s Works. Sartain’s mezzotint was swiftly appropriated by other engravers, who copied and recopied the image so often that their derivatives barely resembled Osgood’s original life portrait. Even Sartain copied himself: in 1885 he enlarged and reworked his original mezzotint, producing a likeness so strangely lifeless (fig. 30) that it now seems difficult to believe the engraver was once personally acquainted with Poe.

Some derivatives of the Osgood portrait were crude, others quite skillful. Five of the most representative examples are given here. Their arrangement is chronological, based on the date of their first known appearance in print.

Engraving by John Sartain

The earliest and best-known derivative of the Osgood portrait is an 1849 mezzotint (fig. 26) by the Philadelphia engraver John Sartain. It was completed just weeks after Poe’s death, for inclusion in Rufus W. Griswold’s four-volume edition of The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe (New York: J. S. Redfield, 1850-56). The likeness appeared as the frontispiece to volume one (“Tales”), accompanied by the caption “Edgar Allan Poe. Engraved by J. Sartain from the Original Picture in the Collection of R. W. Griswold.” The volume was in print by early January 1850, and by 1852 copies were circulating in Europe, making Sartain’s mezzotint the first internationally distributed likeness of Poe.

Engraving of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 26)
Steel engraving by John Sartain
 
[Illustration on page 64]

John Sartain (1808-1897) was among the most successful and prolific engravers of his day. During the 1840s he was producing engravings at the rate of one plate every two weeks; his lifetime output has been estimated at 1,500 plates — an astonishing total.(1) Born and raised in England, Sartain began his career with a seven-year apprenticeship under a letter engraver in London. He was a precocious draftsman, however, and his talent soon won him introductions to Sir Thomas Lawrence, ­[page 66:] Thomas Sully, and other leading artists and printmakers of the day. When his apprenticeship ended in 1830, Sartain sailed for the United States. Accompanied by his bride of six months, he settled in Philadelphia, and within a short time began to receive commissions from the country’s leading magazines and portrait painters. During the 1840s he was supplying engraved illustrations to several Philadelphia-based publications to which Poe was also contributing material (Graham’s Monthly, Godey’s Lady’s Book, and Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine). The two men became friends and in 1841 one of Sartain’s mezzotints was used to illustrate Poe’s fantasy “The Island of the Fay.”(2) Aside from his engraving work, the energetic Sartain was also the proprietor of several magazines, the most notable being Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art, which in December 1849 carried the first printing of “The Bells.”

Sartain’s mezzotint of Poe received sharp criticism from several former acquaintances of the poet. Sarah Helen Whitman noted that the likeness “suggests, at first view, something of the general contour of his face, but is utterly void of character and expression; it has no subsurface.”(3) John R. Thompson, the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, concurred: “It is a little remarkable that no accurate portrait of [Poe] was engraved for any edition of his works. That which appears in the recent collection, edited by Griswold, resembles him scarcely at all.”(4) Nevertheless, Sartain’s mezzotint was reproduced in several subsequent printings of the Griswold edition, and in 1894 the original engraving plate was acquired by the Chicago publishing firm of Stone & Kimball, which had it restruck for inclusion in George Woodberry and E. C. Stedman’s edition of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe.(5) ­[page 67:]

Engraving By Henry Kinnersley

Engraving of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 27)
Wood engraving by Henry Kinnersley
 
[Illustration on page 67]

This wood engraving was originally published in the National Magazine for March 1853. The artist was an obscure wood engraver named Henry Kinnersley who, with his brother Augustus, was active in New York City during the 1840s and 1850s. The engraving (fig. 27) was not copied directly from Samuel Osgood’s original oil painting but from John Sartain’s 1849 mezzotint copy of the Osgood likeness (fig. 26). The Kinnersley engraving, in turn, served as the basis for an astonishingly crude woodcut, bearing virtually no resemblance to Osgood’s original portrait, published four years later in the United States Magazine.(6)

Kinnersley’s print was evidently commissioned to illustrate an unflattering essay in the National Magazine entitled “Edgar Allan Poe,” written anonymously by Richard Henry Stoddard. Stoddard, a poet, had known and disliked Poe, and he used the pages of the National to air his animosity in public. “Save the ‘Raven,’ and one or two similar poems,” remarked Stoddard, “the sooner the mass of [Poe’s work] dies the better for his reputation.” The essay concluded with a curiously maudlin “ode” written by Stoddard shortly after Poe’s death. Entitled “Miserramus,” it reads in part:

The summer tide

Of his life was past

And his hopes were fading, fading fast;

His faults were many, his virtues few;

A tempest with flecks of heaven’s blue;

He might have soar’d to the gates of light,

But he built his nest

With birds of night!(7) ­[page 68:]

Engraving by A. W. Graham

Engraving of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 28)
Steel engraving by A. W. Graham
 
[Illustration on page 68]

By 1855 the original Osgood portrait was in the hands of Rufus W. Griswold, Poe’s literary executor, who had the picture engraved (fig. 28) for inclusion in the revised, sixteenth edition of his anthology, The Poets and Poetry of America (Philadelphia: Parry & McMillan, 1855). The engraver, A. W. Graham, was a British-born artist who had emigrated to the United States in 1832. During the late 1830s and mid-1840s he was working in Philadelphia, supplying engraved portraits and landscapes to a variety of periodicals and annuals such as that edited by Griswold. He was living in New York City as late as 1869.(8) Poe knew his work and disliked it; in an 1835 review he remarked, “The head of a child . . . engraved by A. W. Graham from a painting by W. Collins, R. A., has every appearance of a cabbage.”(9) ­[page 69:]

 

Engraving by Frederick Halpin

Engraving of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 29)
Steel engraving by Frederick Halpin
 
[Illustration on page 69]

This vignetted adaptation of the Osgood portrait has been frequently printed, although it seems to have had its first appearance in the W. J. Widdleton Company’s four-volume edition of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1876). The engraving evidently reached its widest audience a decade later, when copies were inserted into the March 1886 issue of Book News, where they illustrated an abridgment of E. C. Stedman’s essay “Edgar Allan Poe.” The artist, Frederick W. Halpin, was born in Worcester, England, in 1805, and there studied engraving under his father. He arrived in New York City about 1842, and established himself as a book illustrator as well as an engraver of portraits and historical scenes. He was working in New York until at least 1860, and died in nearby Jersey City in February 1880.(10)

By the time Halpin completed this engraving (fig. 29) the original Osgood portrait was hanging ­[page 70:] in the rooms of the New-York Historical Society. It is possible that Halpin worked from this original, although the plastic quality of his completed engraving suggests he worked instead from John Sartain’s 1849 mezzotint (fig. 26). In either case, Halpin certainly endowed the likeness with several touches of his own: the long side-whiskers seen in the Osgood painting have vanished; a small mustache has been added; and Poe’s overall demeanor has become more stately, more poised. These alterations may have been derived from Halpin’s earlier engraving of Poe (fig. 32) published as the frontispiece to The Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: J. S. Redfield, 1859). Poe scholar E. C. Stedman was favorably impressed with the later engraving, remarking in 1880 that Halpin “was no servile copyist, but strove to express the sitter at his best . . . his head finely modelled, with a forehead and temples large and not unlike those of Bonaparte . . . in all, a graceful, well-dressed gentleman, — one, even in the garb of poverty, ‘with gentleman written all over him.’ ”(11)

Engraving by John Sartain

Engraving of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 30)
Steel engraving by John Sartain
 
[Illustration on page 71]

In 1885, thirty-six years after engraving Samuel Osgood’s portrait of Poe for inclusion in The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe, John Sartain enlarged and revised his 1849 work (fig. 26) to produce a second, highly stylized adaptation of the Osgood painting. The seventy-seven-year-old Sartain had by this time lost none of the technical virtuosity that had made him one of the country’s most popular engravers — his revised image (fig. 30) is rendered with considerable facility, artfully blending the technique of line engraving with that of mezzotint. Still, the overall image is disappointing as a likeness. Although Sartain had been personally acquainted with Poe, his 1885 engraving remains a strangely artificial portrait, idealized to a fault. It calls to mind Sarah Helen Whitman’s criticism of the original life portrait by Samuel Osgood: “cold, automatic . . . this luminous but impassive face, with its sad and soulless eyes.”(12)

Sartain’s 1885 engraving was originally published as the frontispiece to Dr. John J. Moran’s pamphlet A Defense of Edgar Allan Poe (Washington, D. C.: William F. Boogher, 1885). Moran had been the attending physician at Baltimore’s Washington College Hospital when Poe died there in 1849; as Poe’s posthumous reputation began to expand, so too did Dr. Moran’s recollection of the events in which he had played a part. By the 1870s he was traveling about the country, delivering a series of lectures on Poe’s last hours, often concluding with a maudlin rendition of the poet’s “dying words:” “As Poe’s last hour approached . . . [I] bent over him and asked if he had any word he wished to communicate to his friends. Poe raised his fading eyes and answered ‘Nevermore.’ ”(13) Sartain’s original steel engraving plate is now preserved in the Koester Collection at the University of Texas at Austin.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - PDEAP, 1989] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (M. J. Deas) (Early Derivatives of the Osgood Portrait)