Robert Cornelius and Romantic hair

April 15 2009


The first photographic portrait of a human being. October or November 1839. A daguerreotype self-portrait by Robert Cornelius, an American son of Dutch immigrants, who worked in Philadelphia. Even one generation in, Americans look American.

His hair surely wasn’t tousled because he had just woken up. This was an important day, after all. It is deliberately unbrushed: the style derives from the more artfully windswept, unwigged heads that we see in paintings of the Napoleonic era and just afterwards. Their subjects would often press a spit curl against their foreheads, and there is even a derivative of that in this self-portrait.

Nineteenth-century group photographs

Boulevard du Temple.

3 Responses to “Robert Cornelius and Romantic hair”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    By 1843 his style had changed. The 1840s were an age of long straight hair for men (counterpart of ringlets for women):

    This faceless example seems to be his only other self-portrait. He died in 1893.

  2. Kerry Says:

    How amazingly glorious!! 1839!!!

  3. davidderrick Says: “This is Robert Cornelius, aged 30, standing in the autumn sun outside his father’s family store on 8th street, Philadelphia.” The store sold lamps.

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