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HomeContents > People > Photographers > C. Yarnall Abbott

Born: Charles Yarnall Abbott 
Dates:  1870 - 1938, 24 June

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Approved biography for C. Yarnall Abbott
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

A Philadelphia lawyer, C. Yarnall Abbott took up photography on his honeymoon in 1898. He was a quick study, because by the next year he was already exhibiting in respected venues for pictorial photographers, including the Camera Club of New York and the first Philadelphia Photographic Salon.
Abbott joined the Photographic Society of Philadelphia, one of the country’s leading organizations at the turn of the twentieth century. He served as its president, presented a solo show of his work there in 1900, and exhibited in its members’ exhibitions. He also had one-person exhibitions at the Boston Camera Club in 1900 and London’s Royal Photographic Society in 1902. In 1901, he was admitted to the Linked Ring Brotherhood, England’s most prestigious group of artistic photographers. He traveled to London in 1901, where he saw the annual exhibition of the Royal Photographic Society and the London salon, about which he wrote for Camera Notes in January 1902.
Abbott was praised for his nude studies, his gum-bichromate prints, and his glycerine-developed platinum prints. Two magazines ran articles on him and his work—Photo Era in June 1900 and the Photographer in its August 13, 1904, issue. Abbott’s work was reproduced in the American Annual of Photography in 1901 and 1902, England’s Photograms of the Year in 1903, 1904, and 1907, and Platinum Print in 1914 and 1915.
Perhaps his most important illustrations appeared in book form. In 1903, the Century Company (New York) published John Luther Long’s novel Madame Butterfly (which later became popular as an opera), with sixteen sensitive images by Abbott. These vignetted halftones illustrate specific lines in the tragic tale of a Japanese woman who commits hari-kari after being jilted by an American man. The book features an elegantly designed (non-photographic) cover and thick, deckle-edged pages. The same year, another publisher issued a less elaborate edition of the title with only eight of Abbott’s illustrations.
Abbott exhibited pictures frequently until about 1915. They were accepted at salons in Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and London. In 1910, three illustrations by him were included in art critic Sadakichi Hartmann’s book Landscape and Figure Composition.
Alfred Stieglitz appreciated Abbott’s work, inviting him to join his exclusive group, the Photo-Secession, in 1902, when they first displayed their work at New York’s National Arts Club. Abbott’s photographs were also included in the Photo-Secession exhibitions in 1904 at the Carnegie Institute (Pittsburgh) and Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), and in 1906 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (Philadelphia), as well as its members’ show at the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (New York) in 1907. One of Abbott’s decorative landscapes appeared as a photogravure in two important quarterlies edited by Stieglitz—Camera Notes (January 1902) and Camera Work (January 1909).
Abbott gave a demonstration at the 1912 annual convention of the Photographers’ Association of America and the next year judged a show for the Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Camera Club, but apparently was losing interest in photography. Soon, he was concentrating on painting, a medium in which he formally trained around the turn of the century, in Paris and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. From 1916 until the year of his death, Abbott’s canvases were seen regularly in the annual exhibitions of the academy. C. Yarnall Abbott died on June 24, 1938. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
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