Monday, 3 October 2011

Gilding the Lily - More hand colouring of carte de visite portraits

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns
Carte de visite portrait of Emily Stuart of Brisbane
Unidentified photographer, c. late 1860s/early 1870s
Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns

This example of a hand coloured carte de visite portrait, probably taken in the late 1860s or early 1870s, is typical of the embellished photographs produced in great numbers during the first two decades of popular studio portraiture, the era almost completely dominated by the carte de visite. The studio furnishings, with an elaborately painted backdrop suggesting the supposedly modern idea of "indoor-outdoor flow," an ornate-backed chair and a patterned carpet, are typical for the 1860s or 1870s.

Image courtesy of Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper's Bazaar 1867-1898 by Stella Blum
Image courtesy of ictorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper's Bazaar 1867-1898 by Stella Blum
Ladies Spring and Summer Wrappings, 15 May 1869
Image courtesy of Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper's Bazaar 1867-1898 by Stella Blum

The young woman pictured, who looks to me to be in her early to mid-20s, is dressed for a walk complete with umbrella, decorated hat and fashionable clothing of similar styles to those which appeared in Harper's Bazaar as "Ladies Spring and Summer Wrappings" in May 1869.

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns

In an attempt to restore some vibrancy to the sepia reproduction of what was obviously a stunning outfit on a similarly attractive young woman, the photographer - or an "artistic" assistant - has concentrated mostly on her accessories. Her large pendant earrings and the brooch at her neck have been painted bright yellow - presumably to signify gold - while the flowers and leaves decorating her hat have been transformed with additions of purple and green. The trim on her skirt has been coloured blue, rather inexpertly (not visible in this close-up), and he or she has taken the liberty of adding a little blush to her lips and cheeks.

Although the colours may appear somewhat garish now, this effect has partly been caused by a deterioration of the photosensitive emulsions over time, resulting in fading, and enhanced contrast with the added colours. As an aside, the fact that her is partly let down at the back, some falling onto her shoulders, suggests to me a slightly earlier age, so perhaps she is in her late teens.

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns

A final "enhancement" only becomes apparent when the image is enlarged further. The eyes have also been retouched, with a slight asymmetry to the additions giving the game away. It was common practice in many early portraits, and I will discuss this further in my next post.

Many thanks to Diana Burns, to whom I am indebted for both the scan of the cdv and the title suggestion.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent example - I can't wait for your follow on post!


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