Update: Wagner at 30. Peter Bassett responds

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 11 January 2013 | 11:16:00 pm

Update: It seems the debate is far from concluded as the Kaplan Collection have brought in the assistance of a specialist in facial recognition . More as we get it. In the mean time you can still vote in the Wagner Societies poll regarding this image by clicking here: The Kaplan Collection. Is it Richard Wagner?

Following publication of the Kaplen Collections response  to Peter Bassett's analysis of the Kaplan daguerreotype, we have just received the following from Peter: 

An answer to further claims about the Kaplan daguerreotype

In response to my observations on a daguerreotype which Albert Kaplan claims to be of Richard Wagner, Mr Kaplan has acknowledged that the daguerreotype in his possession could not have been prepared before the 1850s (in my view not before 1855, when Rudolph Turnau & Co commenced business in Hamburg). However, he now argues that his daguerreotype is a copy of an earlier daguerreotype prepared in Hamburg in 1844 when Wagner was in that city for several weeks during March/April. Following are my observations on this latest claim.

Is there any evidence that the Kaplan daguerreotype is a copy?

Daguerreotypes could only be copied by making another daguerreotype (or later, a photograph) of them. The original plate was a ‘one-off’. The initial report from expert examination was that ‘It is possible that the daguerreotype is a copy of a portrait made at an earlier date. … The technical quality of the daguerreotype is not very high. It is slightly out of focus, tonally flat, and overexposed. … The characteristics of this daguerreotype are commensurate with copy daguerreotype work.’ Subsequently, after the primary housing package was opened, it was determined that ‘no information was evident that would confirm that it is a copy’.

Is there any evidence that an earlier version of the portrait in the Kaplan daguerreotype was prepared in 1844 in Hamburg?

There is no evidence whatever that an earlier version of the portrait was prepared either in 1844 or in Hamburg or, for that matter, at any other time in any other city. It is a circular argument to say that the portrait was made in Hamburg in 1844 because Wagner was there at that time, and therefore it must be a portrait of Wagner.

What would be the implications for the orientation of a portrait of daguerreotyping a daguerreotype?

If the Kaplan daguerreotype is a copy of an earlier daguerreotype, it would have reversed the first one and therefore would have restored the actual appearance of the sitter as opposed to the mirror image of the first daguerreotype. In which case, we must assume that the sitter parted his hair on his right. Wagner parted his hair on his left as we can see from other portraits. It seems unlikely that a copy made in 1855 would have deliberately printed an image back to front if the advantage of the copy was to have restored the sitter’s actual appearance.

Did Wagner make any reference to having a daguerreotype portrait made when he was in Hamburg in 1844?

No. In his autobiography, Wagner records that during his time (alone) in Hamburg in 1844 he was pretty miserable - the city was still a mess after the fire of 1842, the Rienzi production was poor, the sky was gloomy and the weather wintery, he had constant colds and spent most of his time in his hotel room. Not exactly the cheery and healthy young man looking out of the daguerreotype.

Does the sitter resemble any of the known portraits of Wagner from the 1840s and ‘50s?

The answer continues to be ‘No’.

Peter Bassett

11 January 2013