The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate,
MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
The middle years of the 19th century in America were a paradise for
individuals who believed themselves possessed of a special talent. With little
schooling and only a modicum of practical training, often only an indifferent
apprenticeship under an indifferent proprietor, one could profess to be anything
from a tinker or tailor to a painter or physician. A decorative shingle, a
painted wagon sign, or a simple listing in a city directory was often all
the documentation that was needed. Time told the rest. Portrait painters in
particular had the choicest pickings. Traveling from town to town they found
no lack of persons who wanted portraits of their ancestors, of their descendants,
of themselves, their lands, and most poignantly perhaps, of their deceased
children. The painter had only to be able to make a “good likeness,”
and that, according to contemporaries, is what Erastus Salisbury Field (1805-1900)
was able to do. But paradise was not to be forever; sometime around mid-century
painters looked up from their painting only to realize that a serpent had
quietly entered the garden in the form of a machine invented in France by
Louis Jacques Daguerre and brought to the United States by the painter-inventor
Samuel F. B. Morse (JAMA cover, January 20, 1984).
It could make in minutes likenesses far more accurate than those the painters
took days to make. The temptation was too much: America succumbed to the photograph.
Southgate MT. The Garden of Eden. JAMA. 2005;293(21):2571. doi:10.1001/jama.293.21.2571