The J. Paul Getty Museum

[Portrait of a Child]

Object Details


[Portrait of a Child]


Unknown maker, American




about 1857–1858


Hand-colored daguerreotype

Object Number:



5.2 × 4 cm (2 1/16 × 1 9/16 in.)

See more

See less

Object Description

Made sometime between 1850 and 1855, a full decade before the Emancipation Proclamation made all persons of color free in the United States, this daguerreotype of a young black boy is an important record of the face of America in the middle of the 1800s.

The American poet Walt Whitman said that the daguerreotype created "a new world of images." Democratic, down-to-earth, and brimming with opportunity, both the daguerreotype and America celebrated the status of individuals--their personal liberties and cultural freedoms. A portrait such as this, of a child who was probably never a slave, stands as a significant marker toward the fulfillment of democracy's promise.

Hidden Witness: African Americans in Early Photography (February 28 to June 18, 1995)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), February 28 to June 18, 1995
The Making of a Daguerreotype: Images and Artifacts (April 14 to July 12, 1998)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), April 14 to July 12, 1998
American ABC: Childhood in 19th century America (February 1, 2006 to January 7, 2007)
  • Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University (Stanford), February 1 to May 7, 2006
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington), July 4 to September 17, 2006
  • Portland Museum of Art (Portland), November 1, 2006 to January 7, 2007
Education Resources
Education Resources

Education Resource




Historical Witness, Social Messaging

Additional works of art related to the themes and topics of the curriculum.

Breaking the Chains - Intermediate

Lesson about the influence of ancient style of Roman portraiture on Western art and comparing Roman and American slavery.

Visual Arts; History–Social Science


Three/Five-Part Lesson

Breaking the Chains - Advanced

Lesson in which students write narratives from the perspective of slaves depicted in rare photographs, & create a print of a moment.

Visual Arts; History–Social Science


Three/Five-Part Lesson