Comments by Alfred H Wall on


A H Wall commented that miniature painters had flattered their sitters.  Sir Joshua Reynolds had suggested that when painting flesh, the painter should think of "a pearl and a ripe peach".  So when photography was first considered for portraiture, its failure was predicted because it could only tell the truth.

However, A H Wall described how wrong these critics had been:

Photography for replaces Miniature Paintings

"... the boundless success of the new art most decidedly proved;  and to make that proof all the more striking, the early photographic portraits, so far from flattering their subjects did just the reverse.

It was positively because photographic portraits did not flatter that photography became the rage;  and for every one of the banished face-flatterers of the palate there sprung up a thousand mechanical followers of the chemicals and the camera, all of whom found a most liberal share of public patronage awaiting them, and many of whom retired quietly in a few years, comfortably provided for during their lives."

A H Wall explained that the unfortunate face-flatterers were soon in demand again, to "alter and improve" the photographs:

The face-flatterers are in demand again

"No sooner was the image of the camera obtained upon paper than the pernicious old ideas of falsehood and flattery were revived.

The unfortunate face-flatterers were again in demand, and so greatly in demand that their ranks were swelled from every quarter  -  scene-painters, paint colourists, young lady and gentlemen amateur painters, and artists from abroad.

All, all were in immense request, and to work they all went "altering and improving" , cutting out here, putting in there, softening and destroying that   - in short torturing the poor photographs into something which should resemble the worst of those inane old things which photography by virtue of its truth had driven triumphantly from the field of public favour."   ...

"And thus they thrived, and an army of photographic touchers-up and colourists also thrived, growing and spreading mightily over the whole face of the land."

This demand for "altering and improving" did no last long.  As the carte de visite mania took hold, demand returned for true likenesses.  In the words of A H Wall:

The face-flatterers lose favour

"... but (as those who wait in the reception rooms of portrait establishments can prove) the number of unfortunate colourists and touchers-up who, having nothing better to do, wander in shabbiness and mournfulness from street to street, hopelessly exhibiting their specimens and soliciting work, is sadly too large, although even now increasing."

A H Wall concluded:


"Speaking with the weight of fifteen years' experience, I say depend upon it in portraiture, as in most other things "honesty is the best policy".  Photography  took the place of the old-fashioned portrait painters because it was more true."   ...

"Flattery appeals but to the personal vanity of fops and fools while the art which is applied to faithfully realising and perpetuating the persons and features of individuals is upheld by all the best and noblest feelings of our nature."

[British Journal of Photography 1 October 1863, pp.388-389]



Alfred H Wall

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