Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Medicine Bottles Postmortem

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things."

Thursday, on Shades Of The Departed, will be dedicated to many things,
and nothing in particular.

Many Things Thursday

There have been several comments regarding the photograph I found the most heartbreaking, that was contained in yesterday's article I Still Think She's Dead - And Here's Why. Having done some further research I found the photograph listed in Dr. Stanley Burns', Sleeping Beauty. The caption for the photograph reads:

MOTHER AND FATHER WITH DEAD DAUGHTER USELESS MEDICINE BOTTLE ON TABLE; Anonymous 2 3/4 x 3 1/4", Daguerreotype; circa 1848. Both parents posed with a dead child is perhaps the rarest subject to early postmortem genre photography. This image is particularly unusual in that it is one of only two postmortem photographs where the evidence of failed medical care are present. At the time this daguerreotype was taken it was uncommon to pose with objects. It is not an accident the medical bottles are in the image.

The Charles Wilson Peale painting "Rachel Weeping" (1772 & 1776) shows a similar scenario. In the painting, Peale's wife mourns over her dead daughter. Medicine bottle are on the table.

The painting "Rachel Weeping" is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and can be found here.

Peale's painting shows his first wife, Rachel, weeping over the loss of their child, most likely their daughter Margaret, who died of smallpox in 1772. The picture was not meant for wide public display; Peale kept it in his studio behind a curtain with the following sign: "Before you draw this curtain Consider whether you will afflict a Mother or Father who has lost a Child."

The resemblance of the photograph to the painting is evident. When you access the painting please listen to the audio(x2) and enlarge the painting to see the medicine bottles.

Is there anything you can't find on the wonderful web?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel for the Peales.

Along this vein, I saw an exhibit about 5 years ago or so at Brewster Ladies Library, MA on Cape Cod, of portraits done by an itinerant portrait painter who had spent some time on the Cape.

He was not of Peales caliber, but he did well for himself. One of the paintings was of a toddler, about 2yo, that looked much more "off" than the other portraits.

It was a PM painting. The father was a whaling captain away at sea who had hadn't yet met the child, so it was for his benefit that the picture was painted.

Apparently PM images wasn't an unusual concept even then. Artists kept prepared canvases on hand of men, women, and children that only needed to have the face and hair painted in. Rather like the equivalent of affixing your head on someone else's body with PhotoShop.

I could just kick myself for forgetting the name of the artist. I think the era was around the late 1700s to early 1800s or so.

November 15, 2009 at 12:54 AM  

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