Back to: Nineteenth-Century Texts
Online Exhibitions | Helios | American Art Home

"The True Artist" 
Daguerreian Journal, August 1851

Finally, when the plate has been prepared, it is in readiness for the artist, who finishes the work. His skill, or want of skill, and judgement is to be seen in the picture. The composition, arrangement, &c., afford him but little room for imagination, but demands the exercise of his talent and good judgement in producing not only a satisfactory likeness, but a picture, which may be looked upon with pleasure as a work of Art.

The Daguerreian Artist should possess quick perceptive powers; an eye for the beautiful, which will enable him at a glance to decide on expression and position. He will promptly, yet judiciously, select the view of the face most favorable for the just disposition of lights and shadows,-—having placed the seat and chosen the most graceful and becoming position for the body, draperies, &c.

These, with the easy natural position, and the artistical arrangement of all the accessories, make up the perfect picture; and should be decided upon without apparent reflection or hesitation; since doubt or hesitancy may decompose the natural or peculiar expression of the countenance, which is most desirable to secure.

The picture should express feeling, thought and intelligence. An embarrassed, affected or constrained expression will always insure dissatisfaction, and should be sedulously avoided; since it is the "every day," "home" expression, which renders the picture an object of admiration in the familiar circle where it is to be, if at all, appreciated. The artist will find great difficulty in pleasing every one. However faultless his picture may be in a mechanical, chemical, and artistical point of view,—without a cheerful, life-like and intelligent expression—his task is by no means an easy one, either in affording satisfaction to his patrons or winning credit for himself.

To succeed, please, and secure the admiration of his patrons, he must adapt himself at once, pleasantly, to the various characters and dispositions of those whom he is about to wait upon. He must aim to be cheerful and pleasant under all circumstances, and especially patient and playful with the children. Some persons, (and the most difficult to please,) will take the seat for a picture, (which they will insist must be good, or they cannot take it,) with a wearied, anxious or thoughtless expression of countenance. Here is trouble for the operator; with such persons, the judicious artist will now call into requisition his tact. He will, when his arrangements are completed, his camera adjusted, the lights and shadows properly disposed, and his plate in the camera box ready to be exposed to the image, engage his sitter's attention, and direct his thoughts by a pleasant conversation; or by timely suggestion, arouse up a cheerful and lively expression. Let him call to mind "happy thoughts," if possible—and when the countenance is thus "lighted up," the artist will request the sitter to let the eyes rest upon one object only, "wink" or move the eye-lid, if necessary,—but retain the same expression of the features desired, during the "operation," or exposure of the plate to the image. If managed with a little tact on the artist's part, the expressive life-like character of his picture, and the gratification of the original, will richly compensate him for his effort to please.

On the other extreme, avoid a "smirk" or the "simple smile of affectation";—allow the features to settle or become composed, before the slide is removed and the plate is exposed. Avoid stiffness—allow the drapery to fall loosely and gracefully— a gentleman's cravat and collar should be so adjusted as to give the head perfect freedom,—a little inclination of the person to the right or left, (towards the table, if one is introduced,) and an easy and spirited posture of the head should be deemed of the greatest importance. The hands (if brought into the picture,) should be placed in the focus, or a little back of it. Many little and apparently trifling details, help to make up the perfect picture. All should be thought of, and attended to, in a moment's time—and as has already been observed, apparently without study or reflection, for time is precious, especially if the plates are ready coated and standing.

Be careful, we repeat, to take the most favorable view of the face—generally a "three-quarter" or "two-thirds" view is best. Seldom or never a direct "front face." Many faces, especially those who have well proportioned and regular features, look well in "profile," but the outline of the face should be turned from the light, or placed in shadow. The arrangement of the "lights and shadows," as a general thing with Daguerreians has received but little attention;—all would profit by studying the works or productions of the most eminent artists.

An hour passed in the gallery of fine arts, where painting and statuary afford opportunities for observing the due effect of lights and shadows, is an invaluable addition to the accustomed study of every day life, as presented in the Daguerreian Attiller.


 
 

Back to: Nineteenth-Century Texts
Online Exhibitions | Helios | American Art Home