The Kaplan Photo of Richard Wagner? New evidence emerges

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 11 January 2013 | 9:04:00 pm

Anyone who has been following the controversy regarding the claims by the Kaplan Collection to have found the earliest photograph of Richard Wagner will have no doubt read Peter Bassett's critique of the photo. In these he seemed to clearly demonstrate that the image could not be that of Wagner (read here for more ). As the Kaplan Collection now say:

"Widely known Wagner authority, Peter Bassett, has written an essay, “The Kaplan Daguerreotype of Wagner: A Case of Mistaken Identity”, based on the indisputable facts that the Turnau label listed two offered services that were not available until the 1850s, years after Wagner was in Hamburg. As the label is a veritable fingerprint of the daguerreian, Mr. Bassett makes what had seemed to me, and others, to be a very strong case against the image being of Richard Wagner because, if the young man is Richard Wagner, the only time this image could have been made in Hamburg was 1844."

However, the Kaplan Collection has now had the image re-examined based on Bassett's critique. And the findings?

"Unbeknown to me, both Grant Romer and Michael Hager, both of whom meticulously examined the daguerreotype, had come to the conclusion that they were examining a copy daguerreotype.

Here is Grant Romer’s analysis:

“The stereographic format for photographs was not popularized until 1851; and the Panotype is a collodion based process which had no currency before 1850. However, those indisputable facts are not conclusive evidence that the original portrait was made in the 1850s. It is possible that the daguerreotype is a copy of a portrait made at an earlier date. Photographic studios were frequently called upon to copy unique images. I have seen many copy daguerreotypes.”

“The technical quality of the daguerreotype is not very high. It is slightly out of focus, tonally flat, and overexposed. This puzzled me since a studio photographer in the 1850s, capable of working both the daguerreotype and collodion processes, should have been able to produce a better daguerreotype. However, copying daguerreotypes presented unusual difficulties, and did not always equal the studio standard of direct camera work. The characteristics of this daguerreotype are commensurate with copy daguerreotype work.”

“At the time of my intervention into the frame I saw no reason to enter the primary housing package since it was functionally intact, and evidently original. Occasionally, the conservator will find evidence on the plate which confirms that it is a copy daguerreotype. In this instance, part of the plate’s edge is covered, concealing that possible evidence. I will see what is there. However, its absence will not alter my opinion that this is a copy daguerreotype.”

“It is wrong to absolutely declare that the portrait could not have been made earlier than the 1850s, even if no further evidence of the plate being a copy is found”.


To continue reading - and to view further new images - please visit: "Wagner at the Kaplan Collection"