Painting and Painted Photography

Most people are aware of the great American portrait painters of the early nineteenth century - Stuart, Copley, Sully Peale. The same is true of the portraitists at the end of the century exemplified by Cassatt, Eakins and Sargent. But when asked about the period between 1850 and 1880, most people draw a blank. Painted portraiture would seem to have suffered a severe decline during this period.

Photography is generally acknowledged as the culprit that killed traditional portraiture. What is not generally recognized is the fact that a specific type of photograph was responsible for this change. Framed, hand-colored photographs competed with, and finally displaced, conventional portraits. The best works of painted photography were comparable to the finest academic art, while cheaper forms drove the folk artist out of business. These framed photographic works have never before been studied or presented to the public.

Academic portraiture was produced for the wealthy. Traditional folk painting extended portraiture to the middle class. Painted tintypes represent the final stage of folk portraiture - the extension of framed portraiture to the working class. Tintypes were the most widespread format for painted photography.

While much has been written about how painters used photography, this is the first book to examine how photographers used painters and painting in their work. This is a lost chapter in American portraiture.

Stanley B. Burns, M.D.