Edward Moran (American, 1829-1901). Seated in a side pose in front of a work in progress. Photographer unknown. (c. 1870)
A new and exciting historical photography source is now online. (Yes, I used “historical” and “exciting” in the same sentence.) Called “The Commons,” it is a collaboration between the Library of Congress, Smithsonian, Flickr.com and several historical societies to digitize historical photographs and make them available online.
Frederick Auguste Bartholdi (French, 1834-1904). Mounted portrait of Bartholdi in coat with hand inside lapel. (1880)
While looking through the collection, I stumbled upon an area of The Commons dedicated to late-nineteenth-century portraits of painters. Most photos are studio portraits of American artists. Some are candid shots of artists working in their studios or en plein aire.
There is something unnerving and almost ironic about photographs of painters. For me, it’s like seeing a picture of a well-known radio host for the first time (e.g. Terry Gross from Fresh Air), or like seeing one of my high school teachers in the supermarket. My image of them is thrust out of the compartment I placed them in and into reality.