Poe  Portraits
Portraits of Poe by John Sartain, A.W. Graham and S.S. Osgood

John Sartain, Artist and Fine Engraver

John Sartain himself was a fascinating and complex man. Poe, T.D. English, Henry Hirst, George Lippard, and until the mid to late 1840s, Felix O.C. Darley, were all extremely close to John Sartain. Later in the decade, when Sartain began his own literary and art magazine, "Sartain's Magazine," he turned on all of these people with the exception of former Poe friends, T.D. English and Rufus Griswold. John Sartain is known as the Father of 'Mezzotint Engraving' and was one of the most powerful, talented and brilliant of the Philadelphia Renaissance coterie.
Poe by John Sartain

Poe by John Sartain
Poe by A.W. Graham

Poe by A.W. Graham
Poe by S.S. Osgood

Poe by S.S. Osgood

Edgar Poe, engraved by John Sartain


This is a most fascinating image. It is a mezzotint steel engraving, a process which John Sartain perfected and brought into widespread use in the mid 1800's. This engraving was supposedly executed in 1849, in time to appear in Rufus Griswold's 4-volume edition of Poe's work, published by J.S. Redfield and Company, 1850-56.

Ostensibly, the engraving was derived from the Samuel Stillman Osgood's oil painting of Poe (above right). While Sartain's engraving bears little resemblance to Osgood's, Sartain was a master artist, as well as engraver, and his engravings often, took on a life of their own, creating very personal and independent pieces of art, giving a very different effect from the original artist's work.

What is most suspicious about this work by Sartain is that the face we see in this engraving is very, very close to the images of Poe seen in the Graham's Fashion Plates, which were being printed in the early to mid 1840's in Philadephia. It seems that either Sartain used the images in Graham's Fashion Plates to create this engraving of Poe, or that this engraving was done in the early 1840's and was in fact, the basis for the image of Poe repeatedly used in the Fashion Plates! This image of Poe is also startlingly like another engraving of Poe done by A.W. Graham, c.1855 (above center).

Graham's engraving has also been said to be based on the Osgood painting. It seems far more likely that both Sartain's engraving, as well as Graham's very similar work, were both either taken from the images of Poe that appeared years prior in Graham's magazine, or that at least one of these engravings was indeed the basis for the image of Poe in the Fashion Plates. My feeling is that since Poe and Sartain were very much at odds with each other by the end of Poe's life, that Sartain may indeed have given Griswold this engraving to use in his book, knowing that people would indeed recognize that this was the same face that had already appeared in many of the Graham's Fashion Plates, and that Sartain wanted to make this point evident to anyone with a good eye.


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