Text: Michael J. Deas, “The Traylor Miniature,” The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (1989), pp. 112-113 (This material is protected by copyright)


­[page 112:]

The “Traylor” Miniature

This miniature (fig. 52) first appeared at the turn of the century in the possession of the Bendann Brothers, art dealers active in Baltimore.(100) Its exact origin is obscure, although the picture was reportedly acquired somewhere in Annapolis by W. E. Jones, a salesman acting on behalf of the Bendanns. In 1905 the miniature was consigned by Jones to J. J. English, Jr., of the Bell Book and Stationery Company on Main Street in Richmond, Virginia. It was purchased soon afterwards by the noted Poe collector Robert Lee Traylor.(101) The portrait eventually passed to Mr. Traylor's daughter, Mrs. Lewis Griffin Larus, after whose death in 1946 it was acquired by its present owners, the Poe Foundation of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Richmond.

The likeness was first reproduced in B. B. Minor's The Southern Literary Messenger, 1834-1864 (New York: Neale Publishing Company, 1905). It was reprinted in James A. Harrison's Last Letters of Edgar Allan Poe to Sarah Helen Whitman (New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1909), and the Valentine Museum's Richmond Portraits in an Exhibition of Makers of Richmond (Richmond: The Valentine Museum, 1949).

Minuature portrait of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 52)
The Traylor Miniature
[Illustration on page 113]

The miniature was formerly believed to have been painted from life, sometime between 1836 and 1839, when Poe was about nineteen. Early Poe scholars such as James A. Harrison accepted the likeness as completely authentic, but in 1926 James Southall Wilson dismissed it, without explanation, as “a synthetic picture.”(102) It is likely that Wilson was correct in rejecting the portrait. The likeness appears to have been derived from either of John Sartain's two engravings of the Osgood portrait — most probably the one he completed in 1885 (fig. 30). Although Sartain's engraving and the miniature are artistically dissimilar, the two images share a number of visual parallels that are too idiosyncratic to be the product of mere coincidence. The long side-whiskers seen in the engraving have been deleted in the miniature, but the cherubic mouth and oddly vacant stare remain identical in both portraits. The elongated nose is repeated in each picture, casting the same shadow onto the right cheek. Both hairlines are identical, and each likeness is distinguished by a serpentine lock of hair above the left temple. The torso seen in the Sartain engraving has been considerably altered in the miniature, but the silhouette formed by collar and shoulder runs parallel in both images.

Robert Lee Traylor seems to have had some doubts concerning the miniature's authenticity, but was unwilling to air them publicly. He was, in fact, somewhat misleading when discussing the origin of the portrait. In 1914, seven years after Traylor's death, J. H. Whitty explained in a letter to Poe biographer Mary E. Phillips:

I was well acquainted with Mr. Traylor, and often met him during his lifetime. One day he showed me a miniature of Poe enclosed in an old time case. He told me that he had obtained it from a lady in Baltimore ... that she was a friend of the Poe family and that the miniature had been owned by Poe himself. It was unsigned, had an unusual new appearance to me and looked like it might have been made up from two portraits of Poe I knew [probably fig. 26 and fig. 30]. ... Some months afterwards I was in Franck's picture frame shop and Franck asked my views of the miniature. I told him that I was afraid that Traylor had been imposed upon. He smiled and seemed to know something about it and finally admitted to me that he had sold Traylor the old fashioned case in which the miniature was enclosed. Then I grew suspicious and went upon an investigation. I first ­[page 113:] wrote and asked Mr. Traylor for the history of the miniature in writing and have his response declining to do so.

I discovered that the bare miniature was offered for sale here by an art salesman from Baltimore to Mr. English of Bell Book & Staty. Co. Mr. English told me that he knew Traylor was interested in Poe and showed him the painting and afterwards purchased it for him for $50. The art establishment [Bendann Brothers] wrote me that they sold the miniature but knew nothing of its history. The salesman [W. E. Jones] was not then with them, but in Europe. I have a letter from the salesman in which he states that the painting came from Annapolis, Md., but that was all he knew.(103)

Although it is best categorized as a derivative portrait, the “Traylor” miniature remains an undeniably charming work, resulting perhaps from a well-intentioned effort to create an accurate likeness of Poe as a young man. Indeed, it is painted with considerable skill, has a poignancy that is altogether lacking in John Sartain's 1885 engraving, and compares quite favorably with the extant descriptions of the young poet.



Ton Fafianie discovered a relevant note in the Richmond Dispatch (Richmond, VA) for July 28, 1901 (whole no. 15,684, p. 10, near the bottom of col. 1):

Quite recently Mr. Traylor purchased a very rare and exceedingly valuable medallion portrait of Poe. It is a beautiful work of art, but it would shock you to know what he paid for it. Still, the money was well invested, for the picture is a priceless relic and its owner fairly exults in the possession of it.

Consequently, as he points out in his e-mail to the Poe Society (dated December 13, 2019), it is clear that Traylor had purchased the portrait in 1901 rather than in 1905.






[S:1 - PDEAP, 1989] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (M. J. Deas) (The Traylor Miniature)