Samuel F. B. Morse and the Daguerreotype: Art and Science in American Culture, 1835--1855
This dissertation is the first extensive examination of Samuel F. B. Morse's (1791-1872) daguerreotype activity. Morse, well known as an important nineteenth-century painter and inventor of the electro-magnetic telegraph, was among the first in the country to experiment with Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre's 1839 invention. Indeed, he was the most important, critical voice regarding photography in the medium's very early years. My study argues that Morse's work with the daguerreotype, particularly his partnership with chemist John William Draper (1811-1882) needs to be read as a vital link between his careers as a painter and an inventor. Through my analysis of Morse's photographic practices and products, I show that the artistic, photographic, and telegraphic work of Morse are linked through his life-long ambitions of personal greatness and national service, and that he repeatedly attempted to realize these goals through mechanical reproduction, be it the use of a camera obscura to create his most important paintings, the recording of a photographic subject, or the transformation of an electric current into a telegraphic message. While Morse had long been involved with both the fine arts and invention, his very conscious turn to privileging scientific technology over the arts in the 1830s is indicative of Morse's awareness of the emphasis American culture placed on native technology over the visual. I contend that Morse chose to yoke his desires for American fine arts onto this decided direction of American progress, and that the daguerreotype offered Morse the opportunity to bridge these two fields within his own work, an attempt that ultimately proved unsuccessful. Having unearthed new and important primary source information regarding Morse and the daguerreotype, I examine his role in the early photographic community in New York, and show his importance in the positive reception of the new technology within the United States, particularly as it relates to the fine arts. I also provide the first extensive discussion of Draper as a photographer.
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Morse as a Photographer 18391841
Art and Science and Technology
Academy of Design advertisement Alfred Vail Allston American Daguerreotype American History appeared April Arago Art Journal artist Benjamin Silliman brother camera obscura canvas career chemical claim copies create D.C. Fig Daguerre Daguerre’s daguerreian daguerreotype daguerreotype plates daguerreotype portrait daguerreotypists discovery Dorothy Catherine Draper Collection early Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine engraving exhibition experiments February Francis O. J. Smith Gallery Geoffrey Batchen Gouraud Herschel Ibid interest invention inventor January Jedidiah Morse John William Draper later lectures letter light Louis-Jacques Daguerre Louvre Mabee March medium Morse and Draper Morse Papers Morse wrote Morse’s Museum of American National Academy National Museum nature New-York Observer nineteenth century noted Old Masters painter painting particularly photogenic drawings photographic portrait picture portraiture proto-photographic published quoted regarding Rinhart Samuel F. B. Morse scientific Scribner’s September Sidney Silliman sitters Smithsonian Institution Society Southworth Staiti Still-Life studio success Talbot telegraph Vail Washington Yale