Unidentified Child], ca. 1850.
Gift of Alden Scott Boyer.
George Eastman House.
The tradition of making portraits of the deceased
existed long before the introduction of the daguerreotype.
Often this was done because no other portrait of the
departed existed. Such portraits kept the memory of
a person alive to those most attached and grieving
over the loss. It was quite natural for the daguerreotypist
to be called into such a service. Through the time-transcending
power of the daguerreotype, the realities of the first
moments of death could be turned back to the last
moments of life, if properly managed.
Southworth & Hawes gave such service with great
sensitivity to the needs of their clients, and stressed
specialty in their advertisements. Southworth wrote
The artist is often required to
transfer to canvas, paper or marble, the living features
after the pulse has ceased to beat. Much oftener is
the daguerreotypist called to copy what life has left.
Sometimes he may represent “balmy sleep,”
but too frequently will the last enemy so have marked
his victim, that the picture cannot be contemplated
with satisfaction…. But even in such cases an
artist may be able to make a faithful likeness…under
the worst and most forbidding circumstances….
As a general rule let the artist be sent for as soon
as practicable, and let his suggestions be considered
and followed in most cases, and not more than an hour
will be required to perform the whole task and leave
all as well, perhaps better than when he commenced.
With confidence and care the drapery, and the posture
of death will not be first seen and most forcible
in the likeness.