Lot 511
WHITMAN, WALT (1819-1892, American poet) PORTRAIT BY G.F.E. PEARSALL, 1872
Sold for £2,375 (US$ 3,991) inc. premium
Lot Details
WHITMAN, WALT (1819-1892, American poet)
PORTRAIT BY G.F.E. PEARSALL, vintage photograph, albumen cabinet card, SIGNED AND INSCRIBED BY WHITMAN ('Walt Whitman / born May 31 1819'), with the printed legend on the original mount 'from Life, Sept., '72', 1 of 100 signed by Whitman, seated at his writing desk, with his head resting on his left hand, and wearing a white hat, an open collared shirt and a three-piece suit, formerly inserted as the frontispiece to Whitman Two Rivulets, 1876, limited to 100 copies, his 'contribution to our National Centennial', with the photographer's imprint below the image - Pearsall being of Fulton Street, Brooklyn, New York, and that it was printed by C.F. Spieler of Philadelphia, very fine, framed and glazed, size of photograph including original mount 7 x 4 inches (18 x 10.5 cm), size of image 8 x 5 (20 x 12.5 cm), overall size 14 x 10 inches (36 x 17 cm), Brooklyn, September 1872

'THIS HEART'S GEOGRAPHY'S MAP', Whitman called a photograph of himself in the text of Leaves of Grass. Knowing Whitman's concern with his image, he would have taken great care in choosing his image for so significant a publication. Pearsall's photograph has become one of the classic images of the poet.

On 2 May 1875, Whitman announced: 'I shall... bring out a volume this summer, partly as my own contribution to our National Centennial. It is to be called Two Rivulets - (i.e. two flowing chains of prose and verse, emanating the real and ideal) [the "real" being represented by prose and the "ideal" by poetry] It will embody much that I had previously written & that you know, but about one-third, as I guess, that is fresh'. The first printing, from which this photograph was removed some time in the past, consisted of only 100 copies.

'Out from behind this bending, rough-cut Mask,
(All straighter, like Masks rejected - this preferr'd),
This common curtain of the face contain'd in me for me, in you for you, in each for each...
This heart's geography's map...
These burin'd eyes, flashing to you, to pass to future time...
To you whoe'er you are—a Look.'

(from Leaves of Grass)

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 of any American literary figure. '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.'
  1. Simon Roberts
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
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    United Kingdom
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