7/16/2008

Photo of the week - Woman with child

Date: Late 1860's or early 1870's
Photographer: Harald Paetz
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Copenhagen, Denmark

This is one of the oldest photos in my private collection. There is no date on it, but the dress of the woman clearly reveals that it should be dated to the late 1860's or the early 1870's. There is clearly a bustle at the back of the dress, but the skirt is still wide in a way that would have been out of the question 10-20 years later. At the same time, this picture is taken in Denmark which was not the fashion capital of Europe and a couple of years margin must therefore be allowed when dating.

If the child is a boy or a girl is impossible to say from this picture. Children at such an early age back then were dressed the same, in dresses, regardless of sex - it was a practicality, less spoiled clothes and less laundry.

That it is an old photo is also obvious from the firm - but still loving - grip the mother has of her child. The time of exposure when taking a picture was longer than it is now, and it can still be an effort to get un-blurry pictures of young children. This time it had succeeded.

The dress the woman is wearing is obviously of the more expensive kind and since this is before running off to the photographer to get your picture taken was a common thing that (almost) everyone did it is safe to assume that this is a members of a wealthy family. The dress has a lot of lace and the bows and ribbons of the bustle is clearly of moire. That was not worn by everyone.

There is no way of finding out anything more biographical about this woman and child, but a few words should be said about the photographer. He was the royal photographer in town and he also took pictures of actors and other prominent people - and he took the pictures to illustrate a book by H.C. Andersen, the writer of children's stories. It is still available as a facsimile.

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