Henry Havelock Pierce
( US, 1864-1943)

Silver Ewer Festooned with Fruit

Autochrome, 4 x 5 inches

 

Henry Havelock Pierce was internationally-known as a portrait photographer at the start of the 20th century. He exhibited in more than a dozen salons and exhibitions between 1896 and 1906, showing his work at the National Academy of Design, the American Institute, the Royal Photographic Society, and the annual exhibits of the Photographers Association of America.

Pierce is listed by the National Portrait Gallery as a "Photographer and Socialite," and it is clear from his surviving works that he plied his trade among the High Society crowd. His sitters included the famed artists Thomas Moran and John Singer Sargent, the industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick, and Presidential daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

The leading photography critic of the day, Sadakichi Hartmann, profiled Pierce in the October, 1905 issue of Wilson's Photographic Magazine. The article, "A Traveling Photographer: Henry Havelock Pierce," notes that Pierce followed his Gilded Age clientele as the social season moved from Boston to New York to Newport. Describing the photographer as "a strapping young fellow in a big slouch hat, cape-coat and flowing tie, with a grim expression in his eyes as if he were in charge of a battery," Hartmann praised Pierce as " the most 'pictorial' of professional photographers...Pierce has, perhaps, made less serious studies in composition than the majority of our leading men, but he has the gift of finding something picturesque in anything he 'takes.'"

Unfortunately, Hartmann's article was written nearly two years before Autochromes were marketed, so we don't know his reactions to Pierce's color work. Certainly Pierce made a specialty of Autochrome portraiture; like Arnold Genthe, he delivered his work in elegant leather-covered diascopes reminiscent of daguerreotype cases.

This image, a memento from some long-forgotten banquet or ball, features the overhead decorations prominently but seems mostly to concentrate on the silver pitcher festooned with fruit, mirrored in the dark table beneath it. The lighting calls to mind Hartmann's description of a Pierce portrait session: "The thing he seemed to be particularly susceptible to was the play of delicate light and shade values, the gradations of shifting tints, the shimmering notations of the high-lights. A perfect control of light is the ideal of every true photographer."

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