Portrait of a Young Man, 1840
Samuel F. B. Morse (American, 1791–1872)
Daguerreotype; 1 15/16 x 1 5/8 in. (5 x 4.2 cm)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005 (2005.100.75)
Samuel Morse, the celebrated portrait painter and inventor of the electric telegraph, traveled to Paris in fall 1838 to secure the French patent for his new invention. He was soon introduced to Louis Daguerre and in March 1839 became one of the first Americans to see a firsthand demonstration of Daguerre's invention—photography. He returned to New York in April but had to wait five months to learn the specifics of the daguerreotype process and try it himself.
This simple portrait of a young man may be the only extant photograph by Morse and one of the earliest daguerreotypes made in America. The subject stares directly at the camera, straining to keep his eyes open during the minutes-long exposure in bright sunlight. The strength of this portrait is in the young man's rapt expression, which seems to reflect a subtle awareness of his participation in a grand endeavor.