With the invention of photography in 1839, an entire class that had never before been able to afford portraiture was offered some small degree of immortality, allowing them to leave behind a record of their faces for future generations. The practice of postmortem photography developed to preserve forever the visual memory of deceased loved ones. At a time when the rate of child mortality was high (nearly a third of French children died before the age of five in the 1850s), it was common practice to “secure the shadow ere the substance fade.” In the years when most people did not yet have their own cameras, a daguerreotypist was often called in to fix an image of a child appearing to sleep peacefully, with a bit of pinkish pigment applied on the daguerreotype to give the cheeks a healthy, living appearance.


  • Title: [Postmortem Portrait of a Child]
  • Creator: Alexandre Bertrand
  • Creator Lifespan: 1822 - c. 1871
  • Creator Nationality: French
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Date: mid 1850s
  • Physical Dimensions: w14.5 x h11 cm (overall)
  • Type: Photographs
  • External Link: MFAH
  • Medium: Daguerreotype with applied color
  • Credit Line: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase

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