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Date: 1889
Place: Philadelphia
Photographer: Frederick Gutekunst
Note: In his daybook, Whitman recorded on 6 August 1889 that he "went over in a carriage to Gutekunst's, Philadelphia & had photo: sittings." This and three other photographs are the results. Horace Traubel records on the back of a Library of Congress copy of one of these photographs that except for the photographs taken by Eakins and his assistants in Whitman's room in 1891, these were the last photographs taken of Whitman by a professional photographer, and certainly they were the last studio portraits. Whitman thought Gutekunst was "on top of the heap" as far as photographers went, and considered this photo "a first-rater—”one of the best, anyhow." Whitman described the photograph when he received twelve copies from Gutekunst as "big, seated, 3/4 length no hat—”head of cane in right hand—”good pict's." Whitman inscribed this photograph: "My 71st year arrives: the fifteen past months nearly all illness or half illness—”until a tolerable day (Aug: 6 1889) & convoy'd by Mr. B [Geoffrey Buckwalter, Camden teacher and Whitman's friend, who insisted on the photos] and Ed: W [Ed Wilkins, Whitman's nurse] I have been carriaged across to Philadelphia (how sunny & fresh & good look'd the river, the people, the vehicles, & Market & Arch streets!) & have sat for this photo: wh- satisfies me." Some of Whitman's friends did not like it as much as Whitman, but Whitman recalled that Dr. Bucke "counts that the best picture yet—”says that is the picture which will go down to the future." John Burroughs also was taken with it: "Gracious! That's tremendous! He looks Titanic! It's the very best I have yet seen of him. It shows power, mass, penetration,—”everything. I like it too because it shows his head. He will persist in keeping his hat on and hiding the grand dome of his head. The portrait shows his body too. I don't like the way so many artists belittle their sitters' bodies." Whitman liked the rough natural quality of the portrait: "Nowadays photographers have a trick of what they call 'touching up' their work—”smoothing out the irregularities, wrinkles, and what they consider defects in a person's face—”but, at my special request, that has not been interfered with in any way, and, on the whole, I consider it a good picture." Jeannette Gilder, writing in The Critic soon after the photo session, described the portrait this way: "From its framework of thin white hair and flowing beard, the face of the venerable bard peers out, not with the vigorous serenity of his prime, but a look rather of inquiry and expectation." Whitman went so far at one point as to say that "to a person who gets only one picture, this picture is in more ways than any other spiritually satisfactory and physically representative."
Type: Print
Credit: Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress
ID: 110

Image 110


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