There is a growing interest in the painted photograph. Overlooked by the traditional art-historian in the pursuit of individual and expressive works of high artistic quality, the painted photograph opens a window onto a forgotten era when the "new art" of photography first challenged the traditional art of painting as the dominant portrait format.
Of course, the photograph won hands down over the painted portrait as it democratized the image. The daguerreotype brought the portrait out of the mansion and into the home. The inexpensive carte de visite and tintype spread the photographic image to all corners of the world and to all levels of society. Naturally, this worried painters who made their living painting the rich and aristocratic members of society. It was thought by many artists that the photograph was the end of art. And by some photographers such as Nadar who despaired over the carte de visite phenomenon, which made photography into a business. Or Gustave Le Gray who quit photography altogether over the carte de visite. But even before that the daguerreotype, ambrotype and ferrotype were candidates for the artist's touch.
The authors, noted writers and speakers on history of photography books, explore the origins of the painted photograph in the tradition of European aristocratic painting and recognizes the artistic aspirations that photographers exhibited in the nineteenth-century. Many of the early daguerreotypists considered themselves to be artists and later many gallery operators would advertise their services under the same name, seeking it's importance. The name "Daguerreian" would come to mean "photographer" by the 1850s. The authors ask the question: what were photographers trying to achieve in the painted photograph.
The story of the painted photograph told here is one of how artists responded to the challenge of photography. It has been pointed out that the painted tintype was a "forgotten marriage" of the artistic and photographic worlds. (Forgotten Marriage: Art of the Painted Tintype an exhibit at the California Museum of Photography). One way they could survive in the changed landscape was to offer their services and skills toward making the photograph more life-like. Doing the difficult and painstaking job of coloring the daguerreotype. Adding a touch of gilt ink to a lady's jewelry on a carte de visite or painting rosy cheeks all the way to turning the common tintype into an elaborate work of decorative arts. These photographs stand as eyewitness to a sea change in world of art and remain as testamentary artifacts to be cherished.