John Collins Warren (1778-1856)
© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Southworth & Hawes, American (active 1843-1863)
John Collins Warren (1778-1856)
Work Type
c. 1850-1856
Creation Place: North America, United States, Massachusetts, Boston
Physical Descriptions
Whole plate daguerreotype
actual: 20.5 x 15.5 cm (8 1/16 x 6 1/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • label: verso: June 30th, 1921. Carl Nordstrom. Byrd Studio Cambridge, Mass.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Loan from the Massachusetts General Hospital Archives and Special Collections
Object Number
European and American Art

Label Text: 32Q: 2100 19th Century , written 2014
Invented in France in 1839, the daguerreotype was the first practical and widely available means of obtaining permanent images with a camera. The direct positive process creates a highly detailed image on a sheet of copper that has been plated with silver and polished
to a high luster before being exposed and developed.
In addition to operating a successful portrait studio, the Boston firm of Southworth and Hawes was one of the first to explore the documentary potential of the daguerreotype. In 1846–47, the Massachusetts General Hospital commissioned the firm to record the groundbreaking application of ether as a surgical anesthetic. In the image on the left (1.1979), the first surgeon at the hospital, John Collins Warren, lays his hands on the patient’s legs and gazes at the camera. The drama is heightened by the intensity of the participants and the shadowy ambience of the operating theater, which was photographed using only natural light.
Eschewing the overall clarity of typical daguerreotype portraiture, and modeling the lighting after Rembrandt, Southworth and Hawes posed Dr. Warren (at the right) (9.1979) before a background of deep shadows and murky grays, using the light from a massive overhead skylight to illuminate his face, cast shadows below his brow, and accentuate the folds of his skin. The resulting portrait captures the fortitude, compassion, and self-control required of Warren in his chosen profession and represents a stunning departure from the conventional portraiture produced by most daguerreotype studios.

Publication History

Melissa Banta, A Curious and Ingenious Art: Reflections on Daguerreotypes at Harvard (Iowa City, 2000), p. 66, fig. 41

Grant Romer and Brian Wallis, ed., Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes, exh. cat., Steidl (New York and Gottingen, Germany, 2005), p. 236, cat. no. 338; p. 306

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 2008), ill. p. 147

Exhibition History

Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth and Hawes, International Center of Photography, New York, 06/17/2005 - 09/04/2005; George Eastman House/International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, 10/01/2005 - 01/08/2006; Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, 01/28/2006 - 04/09/2006

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Verification Level

3 - Good. Object is well described and information is vetted