Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 12, 2022 | Phillips
  • This bravura whole-plate daguerreotype is exemplary of the aesthetic and technical mastery of Southworth & Hawes, the preeminent American daguerreotypists of their day. Expertly composed, and lit to perfection, this dual portrait of two young girls illustrates why Southworth & Hawes are regarded as foundational figures in the early history of photography. One aspect of their approach to the craft of photography that set them apart from most other daguerreotypists was their practice of electroplating another layer of silver onto commercially available silvered plates. This extra layer of silver allowed the photographers to polish a plate to a greater degree of uniformity, increasing the tonal range, clarity, and depth of the resulting image. The photographers were also experts at photographic lighting, which at this stage in the medium’s history involved the manipulation of sunlight. They directed the light that poured into their studio through a skylight (the first such skylight in Boston) to model and define their subjects, giving their portraits the luminous three-dimensionality visible in the daguerreotype offered here. It could be argued that Southworth & Hawes invented the art of photographic lighting; they certainly practiced to a higher degree of excellence than any of their contemporaries. Their expertise in treating their plates and understanding of photographic chemistry allowed for shorter exposure times, and this accounts for the natural and relaxed appearance of their sitters and the artistic quality of their output.


    This whole-plate portrait was one of about 240 Southworth & Hawes daguerreotypes in the collection of David Feigenbaum (1917-1998) of Marblehead, Massachusetts, discovered after his death in 1998. This previously unknown group of daguerreotypes by these two formative American photographers constituted one of the largest holdings of their work and showcased the range and sophistication of their output. When found, most of the daguerreotypes were uncased and housed in slotted plate boxes. Their appearance at auction in 1999 represented the public debut of this unseen work and gave collectors an unprecedented opportunity to compete for material both rare and remarkable.


    It is almost certain that Feigenbaum purchased this daguerreotype from Boston’s Holman Print Shop, with whom Dr. Edward Hawes, son of Josiah Johnson Hawes and nephew of Albert Sands Southworth, arranged to sell the daguerreotypes that remained in the Southworth & Hawes studio. The Print Shop advertised sales of the material in 1934 and 1935, and it is likely that the young Feigenbaum built his collection during this period. His choices were made with a modern eye that was attuned to both the technical perfection of the daguerreotypes as well as their aesthetic qualities.

    • Provenance

      The Southworth & Hawes Studio, Boston
      By descent to Edward Southworth Hawes, Boston
      Likely, Holman's Print Shop, Boston, 1930s-1940s
      Collection of David Feigenbaum, Boston
      Sotheby's, New York, The David Feigenbaum Collection of Southworth & Hawes and Other 19th-Century Photographs, 27 April 1999, lot 29
      Charles Isaacs, Malvern, Pennsylvania
      Acquired by the present collector from the above

    • Literature

      Romer and Wallis, Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes, no. 1640


The Young Sisters

circa 1850
7 3/4 x 5 7/8 in. (19.7 x 14.9 cm) sight

In a modern brass mat, seal and wall frame.

Full Cataloguing

$70,000 - 90,000 

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs, New York

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Deputy Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 12 October 2022