[Postmortem]

Artist:
Alphonse Le Blondel (French, Bréhal 1814–1875 Lille)
Date:
ca. 1850
Medium:
Daguerreotype
Dimensions:
Image (visible): 3 1/2 × 4 11/16 in. (8.9 × 11.9 cm)
Overall: 6 11/16 × 8 1/4 in. (17 × 21 cm)
Classification:
Photographs
Credit Line:
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005
Accession Number:
2005.100.31
Not on view
In bequeathing to later generations a record of the faces of their ancestors, an entire class that had never before been able to afford portraiture was offered some small degree of immortality by the daguerreotype. That desire to preserve the memory of loved ones found poignant expression in the practice of postmortem photography, a final visual record of the deceased with the power to preserve the image of the mind's eye. Such daguerreotypes were seen as direct impressions of the deceased, as expressed on the label affixed to the verso of this example advertising "Portraits after death, death masks."
This particularly theatrical postmortem is artfully composed so as to present the dead child bathed in heavenly light, the folds of white drapery suggesting the ascension of the soul while the surrounding room and watchful father are shrouded in mournful shadow. The engraved signature, "Le Blondel Lille," confirms that the artist considered this a significant work, no mere run-of-the-mill product.
Inscription: Incised into the plate, recto, BL: "Le Blondel Lille"; Printed inscriptions on verso: " PHOTOGRAPHIE // DAGUERRÉOTYPE // PORTRAITS avec couleurs naturelles et en tous // genres, faits par un temps de pluie ou de soleil, // succès nouveaux, invention de la chambre claire. // Portraits après décès, moulage sur nature."
[Gérard Lévy, Paris] (sold, Christie's East, May 14, 1981, lot 25); Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," May 25, 1993–July 4, 1993.

Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," August 7, 1993–October 2, 1993.

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," June 19, 1994–September 11, 1994.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Photography from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," February 26, 1999–May 23, 1999.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Dawn of Photography: French Daguerreotypes, 1839-1855," September 23, 2003–January 4, 2004.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Master Photographs from the Gilman Collection: A Landmark Acquisition," June 28, 2005–September 6, 2005.

Bernard, Bruce. Photodiscovery: Masterworks of Photography, 1840–1940. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1980. fig. pl. 16.

Hambourg, Maria Morris, Pierre Apraxine, Malcolm Daniel, Virginia Heckert, and Jeff L. Rosenheim. The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. no. 43, p. 57.

Burns, Stanley B. M.D. Sleeping Beauty II: Grief, Bereavement and the Family in Memorial Photography: American & European Traditions. New York: Musée d'Orsay, 2002. no. 14.

Bajac, Quentin, and Dominique de Font-Réaulx. Le daguerréotype français: un objet photographique. Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2003. no. 112, p. 208.