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S. L. Holman (American, 19th century)
Untitled (The Coit Family)
Art Institute of Chicago
The W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg Collection, purchased with funds provided by The Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust, Reference Number: 2019.454
Curatorial description (Accessed: 5 October 2021)
Daguerreotypes—brilliant photographs on metal plates—memorialized families with the first widely affordable images. The technology was especially popular in the 1840s and 1850s, an era of higher mortality rates. Daguerreotypists employed the slogan “Secure the shadow, ere the substance fade” to encourage sitters to visit the photographer’s studio before it was too late. This is one of a rare group of five images that tracks a single family over several years, including a period of mourning. Most of the images focus on the family’s patriarch, Charles Coit, including a photographic portrait, a painted portrait based on that photograph, a daguerreotype copy of that painting, and finally, a daguerreotype of the entire family posing with the painting—as a substitute for the father in a group portrait—made after his untimely death. These family photographs thus invite meditation on mortality and the function of representation. Can a painting stand in for a person? Can a photograph?