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Jesse Harrison Whitehurst
Jesse H. Whitehurst
William S. Forrest Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and vicinity: including Portsmouth and the Adjacent Counties during a period of Two Hundred Years (Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1858), Chap.LII, p.395-398.
Jesse H. Whitehurst, the celebrated Daguerreotypist, enjoys an enviable reputation, and merits a special notice here. He ranks at the head of the list of artists in his profession; and his celebrity and popularity have already secured for him an extensive and lucrative business, in several of the principal cities of the Union. His pictures are very remarkable for their exquisite finish, surpassing accuracy, and striking resemblance to life. The finest and most delicate touches, the work of a master hand, are singularly manifest in all his likenesses.
His life has, thus far, exhibited one of those instances of energy and persevering effort, and consequent success, which it is pleasing to contemplate an interesting example of that spirited devotion to the chosen sphere of action, which marked the career of some of those worthy men of science whose names have " descended along down the track of time," never to be effaced from the historic page; and the remembrance of whose works will pass on, and on, from age to age.
There is much that could be appropriately said here of Mr. W. as an artist; nor can the foregoing remarks he thought too highly coloured, inasmuch as observant, scrutinizing, impartial men, of other sections of the country, have spoken concerning him in terms not less strong.
"Morteotype is a new and beautiful application of Daguerreotype, and is destined to create quite a sensation among the living, if not among the dead. The idea is chaste and novel the dead are made to live in form, feature, and expression the tomb-stone gives to the breathing world more than the mere name of the departed more than can be told by the poet or expressed by the sculptor; a semblance of the mouldering dust that sleeps beneath, when the ghastly remnant of humanity was clothed in flesh, and "the young blood ran riot in the veins.' The stranger, wandering through our cemeteries, will no longer dwell upon the epitaph of the silent sleeper but contemplate the features of the one, who once breathed and had volition like himself. The young and lovely will seem to defy the consuming finger of decay, and smile as they were wont in the days of life. The parent can again look upon the features of his beloved child, and forget that it reposes in the silent embraces of the tomb; while the lover can contemplate the features that longest won his heart, and say, ' such was she but what is she now ?' ' Morteotype' is a recent invention of Mr. J. H. Whitehurst, a gentleman who has devoted a great portion of his life to improvements in the art of Daguerreotyping; a young man of extraordinary genius and enterprise. It is the embedding of the sun-created likeness into the stone, and making it impervious to the ravages of time by the use of the peculiar kind of cement, which makes the picture as durable as marble itself.
" If we have been informed aright, Jesse H. Whitehurst is the son of Captain Charles Whitehurst, one of the gallant heroes of Craney Island, and was born in Princess Anne County, Virginia. He is still young, of prepossessing appearance, and urbane manners. At an early age, he evinced great mechanical and artistical talent, coupled with enterprise and ambition. In 1843, the art of Daguerreotyping might have been considered in its infancy; he had foresight enough to see that there was a wide field opened before him. He accordingly visited New York gleaned what information he could, and, through books and study, obtained knowledge enough of the art to commence for himself which he did successfully in Charleston, S. C. In the fall of 1843, he opened a gallery in Norfolk, and such was his success that, with his usual 'go-ahead-ativeness,' in January of 1844, he established his celebrated gallery in Richmond. Good fortune still smiled upon his exertions; and such was his triumph over all competition, that he successively opened his branch establishments in Lynchburg, Petersburg, Baltimore, and New York. In 1844, he discovered the rotatory background, an improvement which gives an airy, life-like appearance to the picture. In 1845, he constructed the first perfect skylight in Richmond; this improvement diffuses pleasant and equal light over the countenance of the sitter, and consequently greatly improves the picture. In 1846, he applied galvanism to Daguerreotypes, and by a series of successful experiments proved its utility, when all others failed in its application. To give the reader some idea of the amount of business done by. This enterprising young artist, something over 60,000 pictures were sent out from his establishment during the six years that transpired after he first commenced business, giving employment to twenty-three assistants.
"He seldom, if ever, gives dissatisfaction, and never allows a defective picture to leave his gallery. This is the main secret of great success; for every one being pleased, recommendations must come from every quarter. His success in Baltimore has been unprecedented benefiting him, while, at the same time, it throws business into the hands of his competitors, who are numerous, and some of them extremely skilful. The high finish and rich tones of his pictures, have put everybody in mind of having their likeness taken; and this newly-created desire does not confine the patronage of the public to him alone, but distributes it among those who have real merit."
At one of the fairs of the Maryland Institute, held in Baltimore, he was awarded the first premium for the superiority of his pictures.
"The English journals, particularly the 'Illustrated London News,' were enthusiastic in their praise of Whitehurst's daguerreotype views of Niagara Falls, exhibited in the Crystal Palace. These views are perfect gems of art, and conveyed a more correct idea of this great natural wonder of the world than our transatlantic friends have ever had before."
The mind of Whitehurst is one of rare and varied inventive capacity; and it would be difficult to conjecture in what direction his genius may hereafter tend, or what further results may be developed by his skill in his favourite art.