Monthly Archives: May 2016

Posing for my Portrait is Such a Bore

Pets Blog 22 March 2016_0009

Carte-de-visite of a poodle, Wenderoth & Taylor, photographers. Philadelphia, between 1863 and 1865.

This little cdv of a small white poodle, who is unimpressed with the process of posing for his portrait on a tabletop covered with a dark cloth, presented a research puzzle that turned up a number of surprises.  I’m no expert on poodle grooming, but the web is a wonder for this sort of offbeat inquiry. So l learned that this little fellow has a traditional continental or hunting clip, which from what I can tell was quite rare in this country.  (Once upon a time, someone drew on the left ear with a pencil, and I have not tried to remove the marks.) Of course, poodles themselves were rare creatures, and the ones I have found in other early photographs are often left to be curly all over.  No one knew the conventions of grooming them, I think, and there were no professional groomers until purebred dog shows themselves became popular.  (While the first significant dog show in this country took place the the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, they were not all that popular until the early 1900s.)  The dark marks around the poodle’s eyes are probably the “tear stains” that light-colored dogs get.  Except for these, he’s quite fluffy and clean.

Most studio portraits of dogs depict them sitting on a chair or a tabletop, or looking alert on the floor next to their owners.  But a significant minority do feature this floppy “I give up” pose, which may have solved the problem of getting some dogs to hold still long enough for the exposure.  (By now, exposure times were short and easy to bear — unless the sitter was a small child or a pet.)

Then there is the photo itself, a product of the studio of Wenderoth & Taylor.  “Wenderoth” is Frederick A. Wenderoth (1819-1884), a painter of the American West, illustrator for Harper’s Weekly, printmaker and photographic innovator.  Born in Germany, Wenderoth joined the California Gold Rush in 1851 and is noted for his paintings and prints of mining life.  He apparently even had a sales gallery for his art in Sacramento, having failed to find much gold.  Wenderoth also became a daguerreotypist in the early 1850s, and he was known for his experiments with photographic processes.  In 1855, he invented a particularly laborious process, the “ivorytype,” that was intended to mimic painted miniatures.

By 1858, Wenderoth had settled in Philadelphia, and he appears in city directories as both an artist and a photographer. Around that time, he became joined a photographic studio headed by S. Broadbent. Locating in the 900 block of Chesnut Street, the business was in a prime location in a fashionable shopping district.  In the Philadelphia Inquirer for June 5, 1863, S. Broadbent announced his retirement. He assured readers that his partners Mr.  Wenderoth and Mr. Taylor (William Curtis Taylor) would continue to operate the business as before with Wenderoth as head of the “artists’ department” and Taylor in charge of business end, including the “reception rooms”.  Stylish photography studios of the time needed to have waiting rooms that recalled the parlors of respectable dwellings.  Wenderoth & Taylor promised clientele every conceivable kind of portrait, from cartes de visite to the “Ivorytype” and even oil paintings.

Pets Blog 22 March 2016_0010 This portrait was made right as the business turned over;  the back of the card reads “Wenderoth & Taylor, late Broadbent & Co.” The number “27370,” which was probably the negative number, is written on the back of the card, as is the scribbled notation “R H (the letters are crossed)  Bohlens.”  Could this be the owner?  I wonder whether this little poodle had been out promenading on Chesnut Street with his owner, who decided a photograph would be a nice way to commemorate a special dog.

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