In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Early Maine Photography


The Maine Historical Society Collection contains several photographs that are copies of earlier portraits. A circa 1830-50 folk art painting of a woman wearing a bonnet was copied on a tintype. More formal portraits are represented in daguerreotype copies of paintings of Joseph Leland of Saco and Ezekiel Day of Portland. The Leland daguerreotype was made by the Boston area photographer George K. Warren. While Leland’s artist remains unknown, the Day portrait was the work of Portland portrait painter Charles O. Cole.

Lovell native Eastman Johnson was one of nineteenth century America’s leading portrait and genre artists. At the age of twenty-one in 1845 he rented a room in Portland’s City Hall in order to make crayon portraits of local residents. That year his sitters included Stephen Longfellow and Zilpah Longfellow, the elderly parents of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A daguerreotype of each of these portraits was made for family members. Stephen’s daguerreotype copy is part of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House Collection, while Zilpah’s is found at the Craigie-Longfellow House in Cambridge.

Between 1849 and 1852 the aspiring young sculptor Paul Akers maintained a studio in Portland. Photographer George M. Howe’s daguerreotype of Aker’s 1849 bust of Charles Stewart Daveis provides a visual record of this lost work of art. Daveis was an attorney who played a significant role in the settlement of the dispute with Great Britain over Maine’s northeast boundary.

Complementing the image of the Daveis’s bust is a daguerreotype of the sculptor Paul Akers. Born in Westbrook in 1825, Akers worked in Portland before leaving for Italy in 1852. There he spent much of the remaining nine years of his life creating portrait busts and ideal works such as The Dead Pearl Diver and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. His promising career ended prematurely in his death from tuberculosis at the age of thirty-five in 1861.

Nineteenth century Portland supported an active artistic community. Of the painters, sculptors, and carvers who worked in the city, George Henry Bailey pursued the dual professions of artist and veterinarian. The Society’s collection includes an ambrotype of a young Bailey and his wife Irene along with two of his paintings, the Portland Light Infantry Encampment and Tom "Piggy" Houston

Photographers sought to create the effect of portraiture by using painted backgrounds in their studios. A tintype shows a formally posed young woman set against a classical railing and trees as if in the outdoors. The outdoor effect is especially evident in a tintype of a man seated on a bench on a faux beach with a maritime scene behind him, complete with a sailing vessel and a lighthouse. This setting has the look of the interior of a late nineteenth century tintype studio in a coastal resort. Curiously, the sitter holds two large dollar bills and has another pinned to his coat. In contrast to these landscape backgrounds is the indoor setting of a tintype of two women who are seated between a trompe l’oeil doorway and window. The window drapery is rendered in a manner reminiscent of those found in primitive portraits.