WHITMAN, WALT (1819-1892, American poet)
Lot 250
WHITMAN, WALT (1819-1892, American poet)
Sold for £3,000 (US$ 5,116) inc. premium
Lot Details
WHITMAN, WALT (1819-1892, American poet)
UNRECORDED PORTRAIT, vintage photograph, albumen print, cabinet-size photograph, head and shoulders, possibly by V.W. Horton of J. Gurney & Son of New York, SIGNED AND DATED ('Walt Whitman 1871'), mounted on later board, plain on the back without any photographer's credit, framed and glazed, size of photograph 6¼ x 4½ inches (16 x 11.5 cm), size of image 7 x 5¼ inches (18 x 13 cm), overall size 13 x 11 inches (33.5 x 28 cm), 1871

Footnotes

  • 'THIS HEART'S GEOGRAPHY'S MAP', Whitman called a photograph of himself in Leaves of Grass. The present image is not among the 130 taken between 1848 and 1891 compiled by Ed Folsom and reproduced on the website of the Walt Whitman Archive at the University of Nebraska, to date the definitive collection -- but it should be noted that 'most of them are of necessity copies of copies'. An image (O53) shown on the site is slightly different, though clearly taken at the same sitting and signed with initials and also dated 1871; it is attributed there to 'V.W. Horton (?) of J. Gurney & Son.' Almost certainly caught in sequence in the two images, Whitman is wearing the same clothes and the same wispy lock of hair is standing out on the right-hand side of his face.

    Jeremiah Gurney (1812-1886) established his photography gallery at 189 Broadway, New York, in 1840, one of the first such establishments in America, and later moved to 707 Broadway.

    Whitman was a strong advocate of photographs, preferring them over painted portraits. 'I find I often like the photographs better than the oils—they are perhaps mechanical, but they are honest. The artists add and deduct: the artists fool with nature...I think I like the best photographs best.' He would often comment about how photography was part of an emerging democratic art, how its commonness, cheapness, and ease was displacing the refined image of art implicit in portrait painting: 'I think the painter has much to do to go ahead of the best photographs.'

    'No man has been photographed more than I have,' he once claimed, rightly at the time, as regarded American literary figures; it is therefore significant to find a new, or slightly different, image of him. He would have celebrated that it was in close sequence with the other photograph of him by Gurney. 'Whitman's generation was the first to be able to watch itself age'; he liked that photographs tracked a life in time and was a process of continuity and change - as he said, photography had a 'knack of catching life on the run, in a flash, as it shifted, moved, evolved...The human expression is so fleeting— so quick—coming and going—all aids are welcome....' 'I guess', he concluded, 'they all hint at the man.'
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