The New Art of the Photo Sketch: 1901

photo sketch

What Can Be Done with a Brush and a Camera


Society’s newest fad is the photo sketch—so it has been named by its originator. The photo sketch is the latest, most novel development of artistic photography. It can scarcely be called a photograph. It is rather a portrait made by a combination of the camera and the brush.

The woman who sits for her photo sketch obtains an absolute likeness of herself. And yet she beholds herself not as she is, but as she longs to be. All the idealism of the artist has been blended with the matter of fact lens. She may pose in the plainest of gowns, yet in the photo sketch appear in the most bewitching of costumes.

In the photo sketch a platinum print is made of the head of the subject from the negative. So far it is photography pure and simple. The likeness is absolute.

photo sketch3

Then the brush of the artist comes into play. With it he fashions for my lady the gown she most desires, or in which his taste and judgment tell him she will appear to most advantage. With it he gives her the figure she would have had had nature been most kind. Sometimes he may sketch from life, in order the better to catch the personality of his subject, or when my lady has a gown in which she particularly desires to be seen. More often she simply describes one which suits her taste or leaves the matter entirely to the artist’s fancy.

The figure is generally purely ideal. Always it is idealized. And yet the likeness is unmistakable. No one can deny it is my lady’s portrait.

photo sketch 2

The woman with a perfect figure is seldom found in nature. For such a one, however, the negative is reproduced in full, and sufficient outline of the body is left to guide the artist. All undesired parts of the photograph are faded from the print before the brush work begins, so that no shadow of the portrait appears beneath it. This is accomplished by a mechanical process known only to its discoverer. What it is the earnest amateur may find out by experiment. It is a nut he must crack before he may become a photo-sketcher.

Not a photographer in a hundred could become one even then. He must also be an artist and a master of his art. The platinum prints are easy of production.

The drawing is the important and difficult part of this new departure in photography. It is never reproduced. Its beautiful, sketchy effect would be lost in the process. Every copy must be done by hand and each, except in the face, may be entirely different from the others. The beautiful photo sketches reproduced on this page are the work of Marion of New York.

The Sunday Call [San Francisco CA] 7 July 1901 p. 5

In regard to beauty, a photograph tells nothing beyond form and face. A photographer, explaining a lady’s antipathy to the camera, said to a World man: “Her features are not regular, and she takes a bad pictures. Her beauty rests in her deep liquid eyes, coral lips, rich auburn hair and lovely complexion—qualities precisely which a camera cannot reflect. On the other hand, a woman of dull eyes and of hair may make a capital photograph if she have a straight nose and a tolerably good outline of features.

Nemaha County Republican [Sabetha KS] 4 October 1890: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One might call this novelty a species of “fancy-dress,” with the dress being supplied in the fancy of the artist. The practice continues to this day, of course, in the form of “photo-shopping,” which may erase inches and imperfections from the figure, may splice heads onto bodies for the purposes of blackmail, or may add animal noses and ears to the subject, which, to be perfectly frank, are often an improvement.


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

5 thoughts on “The New Art of the Photo Sketch: 1901

      1. Dave Kingsbury

        I suppose the winning drama in a competition to find the play that was most like the plays of Harold Pinter could be described as the Pinterest … I’ll get my tail coat!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s