In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Early Maine Photography


Silhouette of an unidentified woman, ca. 1855
Silhouette of an unidentified woman, ca. 1855Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

When the French artist Louis Daguerre announced his invention of photography in January 1839, painter Paul Delaroche declared, "From today, painting is dead." Yet the daguerreotype would not replace the artist’s hand, but instead become a tool to be employed by artists. Some Maine artists offered the option to have portraits painted based on photographic images. Others used photography to document their work and expose it to a wider audience. Individuals and families used the photographic medium to copy a silhouette or a portrait of a relative, often to share with family members and friends.

The Vickery-Shettleworth Collection contains several examples of photographic copies of portraits. An ambrotype copy of an early nineteenth century silhouette of an unidentified young woman was made by T.R. Burnham of Bangor in the 1850s. Between 1790 and 1840 silhouettes were an inexpensive alternative to portrait miniatures for creating images of individuals. Like painted miniatures, silhouettes were replaced in the 1840s by photography, which in this case was used to reproduce what was probably a visual record of a family member or friend.

Unidentified man, ca. 1865
Unidentified man, ca. 1865Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Another variation on the portrait miniature was the profile drawn in pencil or rendered in watercolor. Such profiles enjoyed widespread popularity in the decades before the advent of photography, Rufus Porter being one of the best known practitioners of the art form.

The desire to reproduce a family portrait is represented in a circa 1865 tintype copy of an oil painting of a man in the dress of the 1830s or 40s. This uncropped photograph (at right) reveals a portrait placed before the camera on a cane seated chair. The unframed portrait shows a man in formal clothing writing with a quill pen. The painting style is reminiscent of the Readfield artist Jonathan Treadwell, who was active in the 1840s.

Julia Clapp Carroll, ca. 1855
Julia Clapp Carroll, ca. 1855Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

An image of another folk art portrait survives in the daguerreotype of a painting of Eliphaz Chapman of Gilead. Chapman, who died in 1844, was active in Gilead’s local government and represented the town in the state legislature.

In contrast to the Treadwell and Chapman portraits, the elegant mid-nineteenth century painting of Julia Clapp Carroll of Portland appearing in an ambrotype (at left) was the work of an accomplished portraitist. A member of Portland’s leading family of the first half of the nineteenth century, Julia Carroll was the granddaughter of businessman Asa Clapp, the daughter of real estate developer Charles Q. Clapp, and the wife of tobacco merchant John B. Carroll.