Throughout his life, Harrison boasted to have made a daguerreotype of Poe, the evidence of which was his hand-painted photographs produced after the poet’s death. In a 27 December 1865 letter that is now at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Harrison wrote to Poe’s mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, about his painted photograph of Poe: ‘I have finished Eddie[‘]s Picture, and exhibited the same to several persons who knew dear Eddie while living, all, without one single exception[,] pronounce it to be perfect as a likeness of the immortal Poet.’ That year, Harrison gave to the Long Island
Historical Society (now the Brooklyn Historical Society) his hand-painted photograph of Poe. Toward the end of his life in 1899, Harrison’s claims about making a daguerreotype of Poe were publicly recounted in The New York Times.
According to Poe iconographer Michael J. Deas, in his definitive volume The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe, the original daguerreotype upon which the present painted photograph was based was taken not by Harrison, but rather by an unknown artist in the late spring or early summer of 1849 in Lowell, Massachusetts. The two half-plates made of Poe in that sitting are among the last to have been made of the writer before his untimely death in October 1849. These original plates are known as the ‘Annie’ and ‘Stella’ daguerreotypes (Deas, pls. 20 and 21). The ‘Annie’ daguerreotype was given to his friend Nancy Richmond, and the ‘Stella’ daguerreotype was given by Poe to his patroness Sarah Anna Lewis, better known by her pen names ‘Stella’ or ‘Estelle Anna.’ Harrison was acquainted with the Brooklyn-based Lewis, and it is possible that he borrowed her daguerreotype to make an enlargement. He also may have borrowed from Poe’s mother-in-law a sixth-plate copy of the ‘Annie’ that is today known as the ‘Painter’ daguerreotype (Ibid., pl. 70). Existing correspondence between Harrison and Clemm, however, indicates that he did not paint the photograph under her eyes, as suggested in the manuscript note.
Although Harrison’s claims of authorship were inaccurate, his reverence for the poet was obvious. Harrison’s vivid account of Poe was published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on 17 November 1875: ‘When I first knew him he was slim in stature, a pale face with a melancholy expression, and a handsome mouth, remarkable for its compression. His eyes were full of thoughtfulness, with the ends of the brows slightly turned upward, presenting an expression of painful sadness. His dress was characteristic of the gentleman. His coat, generally buttoned close up to the neck, a black stock, with rounded corners to his collars, amply extending over it’ (http://www.eapoe.org/papers/misc1851/18751117.htm).
The present hand-painted photograph is one of only three known and the first of its kind to appear at auction. A similar painted photograph with manuscript note, made in 1896 for Poe scholar E. C. Stedman, resides in the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The painted photograph given by Harrison to the Long Island Historical Society is currently unlocated. Deas notes that Poe sat for daguerreotypists on at least six different occasions, but very few plates survive. Nearly all located Poe daguerreotypes, copy plates, and painted photographs are in institutional collections, including those of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Columbia and Brown Universities, and the Poe Foundation of Richmond, Virginia.
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