Artist: Samuel F. B. Morse (American, Charlestown, Massachusetts 1791–1872 New York)
Dimensions: Image: 5 x 4.2 cm (1 15/16 x 1 5/8 in.), oval
Credit Line: Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005
Accession Number: 2005.100.75
Samuel F. B. Morse met Louis Daguerre, the French inventor of photography, in Paris in the spring of 1839. Morse was the first American to see a daguerreotype and among the earliest artists in the United States to experiment with the new medium. This simple portrait of an unknown sitter, who clearly strains to keep his eyes open during the long, twenty-to-thirty minute exposure, is the only extant daguerreotype by Morse and one of the earliest photographs made in America. The strength of the portrait is in the young man's rapt expression, which seems to reflect a subtle awareness of his participation in a grand endeavor. The mindful sitter is one of the first in photography to return the gaze of the viewer.