Dead Child On a Sofa

Dead Child On a Sofa

c. 1855

Daguerreotype, applied color, quarter-plate

Image: 6.3 x 8.7 cm (2 1/2 x 3 7/16 in.); Case: 11.8 x 9.4 cm (4 5/8 x 3 11/16 in.); Mounted: 8.2 x 10.7 cm (3 1/4 x 4 3/16 in.); Matted: 50.8 x 61 cm (20 x 24 in.)

John L. Severance Fund 2002.35

Description

This carefully staged daguerreotype of a dead child is an outstanding example of a very common subject: the postmortem portrait. Using the stylistic conventions of the day, the unidentified artist successfully created a visually pleasing scene, despite the nature of the image. Dressed in white with a bouquet of flowers on the chest, the child, seen in profile, reclines on an elaborately patterned sofa. Delicate flesh tones were added to the cheek and arm, suggestive of a healthy child sleeping. The high rate of infant mortality throughout the 19th century made this variety of portraiture common, satisfying the emotional need of the parents to have a lasting memory of a loved one.

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