Boston: Warren, 1880. 3 ¾ x 2 ⅜ inches on slightly larger mounts. Very Good. Item #CAT0136
Two carte-de-visite portraits of Thoreau after works by other artists. The first after Samuel Worcester Rowse’s 1854 crayon on paper portrait of Thoreau, the second is after Edward S. Dunshee’s ambrotype portrait of Thoreau done in 1861.
The Rowse sketch was the only portrait that Sophia Thoreau, the executor of Henry’s estate, allowed to be published during her lifetime. It became the iconic portrait of Thoreau for his contemporary readers. She allowed the Boston photographer I.E. Tilton first rights of reproduction, and they sold carte-de-visite reproductions for twenty-five cents each. She then allowed Warren the right to reproduce the portrait in 1872.
On August 12, 1861, the New Bedford photographer E.S. Dunshee took the last two pictures of Thoreau before his death. Thoreau’s friend Daniel Ricketson kept the one pictured here. He gave it to his son Walton, who made it available for photographic reproduction in 1881. He gave the other Dunshee ambrotype to Sophia. However, for reasons that are unclear, she did not authorize reproductions during her lifetime. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau’s friend, disliked the Dunshee portrait because he believed that the beard disfigured Thoreau’s face, while others thought it made him look too sickly. The Dunshee ambrotype portrait was not published until Walton Ricketson made it available 1881, when it appeared in several places including The Harvard Register and The Critic, as well as being the frontispiece for Thoreau’s collected works. Both ambrotypes ended up in the Concord Antiquarian Society. Sophia Thoreau left her ambrotype to her neighbor George Tolman, who donated it. It was later stolen, reappeared at auction in 1910, and is currently unlocated. Walton and Anna Ricketson donated their copy as well, and it is currently held by the Concord Museum.
Perhaps because of Thoreau’s relative obscurity during his lifetime, few of these contemporary CDV copies have survived. These examples are in excellent condition with light foxing. Writing on versos show they were purchased in Concord in 1881 and 1882.
Mark W. Sullivan, Picturing Thoreau: Henry David Thoreau in American Visual Culture.
Thomas Blanding and Walter Harding, A Thoreau Iconography.