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Letter to Auguste Edouart from Lydia Maria Child

Unidentified Artist

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery
Washington, D.C., United States

In her letter to Auguste Edouart, author Lydia Maria Child (1802–80) provides a rare glimpse into how people perceived Edouart’s portraits in the mid- nineteenth century, before popular photography. She thanks him for his “beautiful shadow of a magnificent subject,” and although we do not know whose portrait Edouart sent her, it was probably similar to his silhouettes in this exhibition. Child’s other comments make it clear that Edouart provided her with a highly refined portrait. She notes that the portrait arrived framed and “finished with such elaborate care and tastefulness,” and closes by saying, “Really your shadows are almost alive and breathing.”

Child’s comments demonstrate why Edouart was such a successful portraitist. She implies that he conveyed his sitter’s likeness through his ability to capture an individual’s bearing and proportions.

Sitters’ gestures, as well as the props they frequently carry, give yet more precision to each of Edouart’s portraits, and chalk highlights often embellish their clothing and props in a nod to black-and-white photography.

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