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SMITH, Catherine A. N.

Half plate tintype.

840 Broadway, New York: [c.1870s-90s] Stock Code: 131611
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A rare and evocative survival of an informal women's portrait

A notably unusual tintype photograph, very informally composed, of three elegantly dressed women in hats and fur clothing by New York photographer "Mrs C.A.N. Smith", who specialised in ladies' portraits. Each of the women gaze in different directions; their positioning, and the uneven framing of the image, is unorthodox; the photograph's edges are somewhat unfocused and the background appears unprepared. All this suggests that the purpose of taking the photograph was markedly different than that of a typical formal studio group portrait: rather, it was produced to commemorate a friendship or an outing, being 'of the moment', and thus a rare survival.

As the promotional label on the rear of the tintype states, Smith (b. 1820) offered coloured crayon and oil portraits, card pictures and gems ("finished in ten minutes"), and "good pictures taken in cloudy weather". Her studio is fleetingly mentioned in a collection of work by New Yorker journalist Joseph Mitchell, known for his portraits of people and places at the margins of the city: one of his characters recalls going to "Mrs C. A. N. Smith's Tintype Gallery at Broadway and Thirteenth, which was famous in its day" ('McSorley's Wonderful Saloon' in Up in the Old Hotel, 1943, p. 214). Though she herself remains a mysterious figure, with very little concrete information available on her or her practice, Smith's work (where it survives), appears in a number of distinguished photographic collections. The Julia Driver collection of women in photography at Yale has two cartes de visite, one cabinet photograph, and a tintype by Smith. The NYPL has a collection of 153 tintypes circa 1850-90, with Smith identified as one of the contributing photographers. She is included in photography historian Peter E. Palmquist's survey, Women Photographers: A Selection of Images from the Women in Photography International Archive 1852-1997 (1997), and can also be traced to the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, which charts the development of photographic technology.

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Original tintype photograph (178 x 125 mm). Printed typographic label and price list (79 x 40 mm) affixed to verso. Presented in a handmade dark brown stained solid oak frame with conservation mounting and UV acrylic glazing.


Top left corner chipped, some minor scratches and lightly soiled from handling, else very good.


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