Soldier in a Sylvan Glade
The not-quite-young man attempts a relaxed stance, leaning casually upon a ludicrously unrealistic papier mache – er – rock? Behind him is a misty forest backdrop.
A few things about his uniform stand out: He wears a forage cap with artillery insignia, possibly with one row of braid. Perhaps a 1st lieutenant? His sack coat is quite tight and short–not sure it’s Civil War style.
Three aspects of this portrait date it to 1875 or after: The cabinet card size, use of painted background and papier-mache props, and the name of the studio.
The cabinet-size portrait became popular just after the Civil War, as demand for the carte de visite portraits fell off.
“Several sizes were suggested among the professionals,” writes photo historian Robert Taft, “but the one which soon caught public favor was commonly credited to G. Wharton Simpson, the editor of one of the British photographic journals. It made its appearance in this country in the fall of 1866. . . . The cabinet size (for it was soon known by that name in this country) rapidly achieved popular favor” (Photography and the American Scene, p. 323).
New York theatrical portraitist Jose Mora is credited with popularizing painted backgrounds and a new variety of props in the 1870s (Taft, 350-51).
In this he was abetted by L. W. Seavey of New York. “To Seavey, in large measure” writes Taft, ” must go the credit, or the blame, for the introduction of the painted background. He rose to fame during the seventies, making a specialty of manufacturing accessories for the photographic gallery” (Taft, 352).
Soon studios all over the country were employing a wide variety of accessories, such as papier mache rocks, stumps, fences and gates, paper flowers and vines, imitation balustrades and porticos, etc.
Another feature that dates the photo is the studio’s name. David Bachrach (1845-1921), whose descendants continue as portrait photographers today, took his younger brother Moses into the business in 1875, and the studio then became known as “Bachrach & Bro.” until about 1910 (Photographic Journal of America, v. 53, n. 3, March 1916, p. 117).
Also worth noting is the composition of the card mount. The fraying at bottom right shows that the mount is made of paste board, made by pasting multiple sheets together; according to William C. Darrah, it was introduced about 1870.
The subject’s jacket is short and tight-fitting, , and worn buttoned to the neck, in the style that became popular after 1880.
But the crease in the trousers may be the best aid to dating this portrait: Men’s pants did not begin sporting a crease until the advent of the wooden trouser press ca. 1890.