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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755
603.646.2808
hood.museum@dartmouth.edu

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Albert Sands Southworth, American, 1811-1894, and Josiah Johnson Hawes, American, 1808-1901

Daniel Webster
April 22, 1850
Daguerreotype
Gift of the artists; PH.856.2

 

Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson opened a daguerreotype portrait studio together in Boston in 1843—just a few years after the daguerreotype process arrived in the United States—and quickly became the favored photographers of celebrities. Before the invention of the daguerreotype, the social elite depended on portrait painters to immortalize their eminences. The new medium, however, allowed those of distinction and wealth—as well as the middle classes—to obtain realistic likenesses in short order. Unlike many studios working in the nascence of daguerreotype technology, Southworth & Hawes considered their work high art. They used nuanced lighting and highly individualized poses to create likenesses that were accurate, sympathetic, and visually satisfying. Southworth and Hawes donated this daguerreotype of Daniel Webster to the College in 1850, already recognizing by this date his historical importance to Dartmouth. Like other photographs of Webster, this image formed the basis of portraits of the statesman in other media, many of which would also find their way to Dartmouth. Its distinctive full-profile view, taken at close range, emphasizes Webster’s large cranium, nobly bald pate, and commanding presence, as he stares into the distance with the serious expression expected of a distinguished statesman. Webster was known by the public for his large head and significant brow, both indicators of strong intelligence in the age of phrenology—the “science” developed in the mid- to late eighteenth century that studied the shape of the head in order to determine a person’s character traits. Such compelling and technically accomplished portraits as this fulfilled the desire of a consuming public for unfeigned visual representations of the famous, while allowing the sitter to reveal, in the concreteness of the daguerreotype, the “inner character” of his or her being.

Last Updated: 4/29/09