Text: Michael J. Deas, “Early Derivatives of the Daguerreotypes by William Pratt,” The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (1989), pp. 73-81 (This material is protected by copyright)


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­[page 73, continued:]

EARLY DERIVATIVES OF THE DAGUERREOTYPES BY WILLIAM PRATT

As Poe’s posthumous reputation widened, so too did the public demand for reproductions of his portraits. The two daguerreotypes by William Abbott Pratt, known as the “Thompson” and “Traylor” daguerreotypes (fig. 22 and fig. 23) held a particularly solemn fascination for nineteenth-century readers, since the two were widely known as Poe’s final portraits. Both images were copied frequently — by artists and photographers alike — and by the early 1870s they were beginning to supersede the Osgood portrait as the standard likeness of Poe.

The “Thompson” daguerreotype proved slightly more accessible to artists and engravers than the “Traylor” daguerreotype: its original owner, the journalist John R. Thompson, traveled widely and lectured often on Poe, and apparently gave free rein to any artist who wished to copy the image. Elmira Shelton, Poe’s former fiancée and the original owner of the “Traylor” daguerreotype, seems to have been somewhat more reticent about such matters, although she too periodically allowed her daguerreotype of Poe to be copied.

Several notable derivatives of the Pratt daguerreotypes are reproduced and discussed below. With the exception of the “Davidson” portrait (fig. 35), all are derived, either directly or indirectly, from the “Thompson” daguerreotype of 1849. Their arrangement in this volume is roughly chronological, based on each portrait’s presumed date of completion.

Drawing by Flavius Fisher

In 1858 John R. Thompson lent his daguerreotype of Poe (fig. 22) to the Virginia artist Flavius Fisher, who used it as the basis of a large crayon portrait. The crayon (fig. 31), which was owned for many decades by the sculptor Edward Valentine, is inscribed at the lower right: “F. J. Fisher / Oct. 1858.” It was probably completed in the artist’s studio in Richmond, and is one of at least three derivatives of the “Thompson” daguerreotype executed by Fisher.

Flavius James Fisher (1832-1905) was a native of Virginia who spent the early years of his life in eastern Tennessee. While a child he showed a precocious talent for drawing, and at the age of twelve was sent to a studio in Philadelphia to study art. About 1855 he settled in Richmond, opening a studio on Broad Street between Eighth and Ninth streets. During this period he befriended the young Edward Valentine (1838-1930), destined to become one of Virginia’s most successful sculptors. Fisher worked for a short time in Petersburg, Virginia, and in 1859 or 1860 sailed for Germany, “to perfect himself in his art, to study the works of ­[page 74:] the great masters, and under the auspices of distinguished living painters, to acquire the highest possible perfection of eye and hand.”(14) He became the first American to be admitted to the German Art Institute in Berlin, and while studying in that city was joined by Edward Valentine and his brother William.(15) Their renewed acquaintance proved fortuitous: in late 1862 Fisher contracted a “fearful case” of smallpox, and the Valentine brothers nursed him until he could be placed in the charity ward of a Berlin hospital.

Drawing of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 31)
Drawing by Flavius Fisher
 
[Illustration on page 75]

Fisher was so grateful that upon his recovery in early 1863 he presented Edward Valentine with the crayon portrait of Poe reproduced here. The young sculptor must have been quite pleased with the gift: his father was a cousin of Poe’s foster mother, Frances Keeling Valentine Allan, and at the age of eleven Valentine himself had glimpsed Poe walking the streets of Richmond. (He would describe the occasion years later, at the opening of the Poe Shrine in Richmond: “I remember . . . that he passed our house one day. ‘There goes Edgar Poe’ cried my brother, and I rushed out into the street, passed him and stood near the sidewalk as he went by. I then stared at him with all the eyes I had, for his name was so often mentioned by members of our family.”)(16) Upon completing his studies in Europe in 1865, Valentine returned to Virginia, taking with him the portrait of Poe. Although his friendship with Flavius Fisher was severed sometime before 1881, he kept the portrait in his possession until his death in 1930, at age ninety-one. The drawing was later acquired by its present owner, the Valentine Museum, as a gift of the sculptor’s estate.

Like Valentine, Fisher returned from Europe about 1865. He settled in Lynchburg, Virginia, but in 1873 his studio, containing many of his paintings and drawings, was destroyed by fire. He then returned to Richmond, maintaining a studio there for the next decade. In 1882 he moved to Washington, D.C., and opened a studio in the Corcoran Building, where he continued to work as a portraitist until his death in 1905. Fisher’s 1858 crayon portrait of Poe was first reproduced in Mary N. Stanard’s Richmond: Its People and Its Story (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1923). It was subsequently reproduced in Stanard’s Edgar Allan Poe Letters till Now Unpublished in the Valentine Museum (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1925) and Arthur Hobson Quinn’s Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1941).

Fisher is known to have made at least two replicas of his 1858 portrait of Poe. The first of these was given by Fisher about April 1863 to a Mrs. Holtzendorff, the wife of his art teacher in Berlin.(17) The second replica seems to have surfaced thirty years later at an art gallery in Richmond. In July 1893 Edward Valentine received a letter from Mr. Blair Bolling, librarian of Richmond’s Westmoreland Club, inquiring: “Someone told me that you knew something of the merits of the crayon of E. A. Poe in the Davis’ gallery on Broad Street. If you do know anything about it please let me know for I might get it for this club.”(18) Evidently Valentine’s reply was a favorable one, for the portrait was indeed acquired by the Westmoreland Club. The portrait was first reproduced in 1907, as the frontispiece to F. V N. Painter’s Poets of Virginia (Richmond: B. F. Johnson Company), and it remained in the Westmoreland Club’s collection until at least 1918. The present whereabouts of Fisher’s two replicas are unknown. ­[page 76:]

Engraving by Frederick Halpin

This early derivative of the “Thompson” daguerreotype (fig. 32) was originally published as the frontispiece to the J. S. Redfield edition of The Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1859). The engraver was Frederick Halpin, who years later would execute another engraving of Poe derived from the oil portrait by Samuel S. Osgood (fig. 29).

Engraving of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 32)
Steel engraving by Frederick Halpin
 
[Illustration on page 77]

Although Halpin’s engraving is hardly outstanding as a work of art — it bears only a superficial resemblance to the daguerreotype from which it was derived — it sheds an interesting light on a seldom-published description of Poe left by Augustine O’Neil, evidently one of the poet’s neighbors at Fordham. Though awkwardly written, O’Neil’s account rings true when compared to the more elaborate reminiscences of Poe published since 1849, and is worth quoting at length. It was found penciled on the endpapers of the Redfield edition of Poe’s Poetical Works; the “boyish frontispiece” mentioned by O’Neil is the engraving by Frederick Halpin:

I have seen Poe. His house was near the College of St. John at Fordham. I once went down to the City in the same train and waited a considerable time for the car on the same platform. I had ample opportunity to observe him. I regret that I did not speak to him. He was older but much more elegant than this portrait in the front of the book shows him to be. He was entirely alone. He was very neatly dressed in black. He was rather small, slender, pale and had the air of a finished gentleman. I saw [him] at least once before and possibly oftener. My recollection of him as he appeared at the Fordham Station is at this moment very vivid. I once saw him and his wife on the Piazza of their little cottage at Fordham. There was much quiet dignity in his manner. In my opinion neither Shakespeare nor Byron could have been handsomer and I am not a woman that I should be impressed by beauty in a man. This boyish frontispiece gives but a faint idea of him as I saw him. I don’t know the exact date when I saw him, but it was between sometime in the year 1846 and June 24, 1849. Poe must have been at that time about thirty-six years old, but he looked to be forty. His exterior was very pleasing. There was nothing forbidding in his manner. He simply looked like one who had a decent self-respect.(19) ­[page 78:]

Portrait by Oscar Halling

Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 33)
Portrait by Oscar Haling
 
[Illustration on page 78]

This strangely romanticized derivative of the “Thompson” daguerreotype is the work of Oscar Halling, an obscure artist active in Baltimore during the 1860s. The likeness (fig. 33) has been frequently reproduced, most notably in the Stedman and Woodberry edition of Poe’s Works and Mary E. Phillips’s Edgar Allan Poe: The Man.(20)

Engraving of Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 34)
Wood engraving by unidentified Artist
 
[Illustration on page 79]

The history of the portrait is nebulous. Described as a life-size pastel drawing, it was supposedly ­[page 79:] completed in Baltimore in 1868.(21) Before 1871 it was placed on public exhibition somewhere in Baltimore, and was viewed by Poe’s mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, who was by that time residing at the Church Home and Infirmary.(22) During the mid-1870s the portrait seems to have been photographed by the Baltimore firm of Stanton & Butler, which distributed prints of the picture and erroneously described them as having been taken from an original daguerreotype.(23) The pastel was eventually acquired by the Baltimore branch of Edgar Poe’s family, and by 1893 was in the possession of John Prentiss Poe, the attorney-general of Maryland and the third child of Edgar’s cousin Neilson Poe.(24) Later that year copy photographs of the portrait were taken and copyrighted at the request of John’s sister, Amelia Poe, who authorized them to be distributed at the Maryland Exhibit of the Chicago World’s Fair.(25) By 1926 the pastel had passed to John Prentiss Poe’s widow, and may later have been acquired by her son, General Edgar Allan Poe.(26) The portrait is presently unlocated.

Despite the relative obscurity surrounding its origin, the Halling drawing was one of the most seminal portraits of Poe created during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Wood engravers copied and recopied the image often, and crude derivations of the likeness can be found in the New York Daily Graphic for November 16, 1875, The Baltimorean for November 20 and October 9, 1875 (fig. 34), and William Fearing Gill’s Life of Edgar Allan Poe. During the 1870s a version of the portrait even found its way to Europe, where it served as the basis of a wash drawing by Edouard Manet (q.v.). ­[page 80:]

The “Davidson” Portrait (also called the “Memorial” Portrait)

Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 35)
The Davidson Portrait
 
[Illustration on page 80]

This heavily altered version of the “Traylor” daguerreotype was originally published as the frontispiece to Sara Sigourney Rice’s Edgar Allan Poe: A Memorial Volume (Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers, 1877). It has been frequently reprinted, most notably in James A. Harrison’s 1902 edition of Poe’s Works.(27) The portrait differs noticeably from the original “Traylor” image: a quill pen has been inserted in Poe’s hand, drapery has been added to the background, and the entire image has been printed in reverse.

The evolution of the portrait is somewhat convoluted. The image was based on a daguerreotype — not the original “Traylor” plate (fig. 23) but a copy — loaned for inclusion in the Memorial Volume by Thomas D. Davidson, an official at the Stonewall Jackson Institute in Abingdon, Virginia. The copy daguerreotype seems to have been made some years earlier by Daniel Bendann, a former camera operator at the Jesse W. Whitehurst Gallery in Richmond, Virginia, who fictitiously claimed to have taken the plate from life.(28) In late 1875 or early 1876 Thomas Davidson forwarded the copy daguerreotype to William Hand Browne, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who was then assisting Miss Rice in ­[page 81:] preparing the Memorial Volume.(29) The daguerreotype was apparently rephotographed and the new negative heavily retouched; it was finally printed in the form shown here (fig. 35).

S. D. Lewis, a Brooklyn attorney who had known Poe well, thought the finished portrait an “admirable likeness, the best I have ever seen.”(30) Poe scholar E. C. Stedman had a somewhat different opinion of the portrait, remarking in 1880: “In Bendann’s likeness, indubitably faithful, we find those hardened lines of the chin and neck that are often visible in men who have gambled heavily . . . or who have lived loosely and slept ill.”(31)

Engraving by F. T. Stuart

Engraving of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 36)
Steel engraving by F. T. Stuart
 
[Illustration on page 81]

This fine steel engraving (fig. 36) was originally published as the frontispiece to George E. Woodberry’s Edgar Allan Poe (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1885). The artist was Frederick T. Stuart, a painter and engraver active in Boston from 1857 until his death in 1913.(32) Stuart based his engraving on a daguerreotype lent him by Woodberry’s occasional collaborator E. C. Stedman.(33) This daguerreotype, a copy of the “Thompson” daguerreotype of 1849, is apparently the one now owned by the Henry E. Huntington Library (fig. 73).

 


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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 Daguerreotypes by William Pratt)