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Thomas Le Clear
Interior with Portraits
about 1865
oil
25 7/8 x 40 1/2 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by the Pauline Edwards Bequest



Posing for a picture during the early days of photography—when exposure times required several minutes—was no small feat. A sister and brother stand motionless against a landscape backdrop in a photographer's studio. Its clutter includes paintings and a marble bust, references to time-honored ways of capturing likenesses. Clothing resting on the chairs suggests that the children's parents are nearby, watching, just as we do, from outside the canvas. They—and we—enjoy a visual joke, as the new art of photography and the established tradition of portraiture vie for prominence.