A fine, previously unknown and unique portrait.
John Edwin Mayall established a daguerreotype studio at 433 Strand in 1847. He opened a second studio in 1853 at 224 Regent Street, and maintained both studios for between two and three years, selling his Strand studio to his assistant Jabez Hughes in 1855.
The surviving letters of Charles Dickens (1812-1870) indicate that he sat for Mayall in 1852 and was more than satisfied with the result. The whereabouts of this image is not known. A half-figure portrait attributed to Claudet, apparently dating from the same year, shows the writer clean-shaven. Photographs from circa 1858 onwards show Dickens with a full beard. There is no surviving correspondence from Dickens to Mayall between 1852 and 1856, when Dickens declines an invitation for a sitting on the grounds of having "so much to do and such a disinclination to multiply my "counterfeit presentments"". However, other references suggest that additional sittings did occur. A stereoscopic portrait of Dickens was exhibited by Mayall at the Photographic Society's exhibition in London in January 1855. A critic quoted in La Lumière, 3 February 1855, wrote "Au nombre des portraits stéréoscopiques exposé par M. Mayall, nous avons remarqué ceux de M. Charles Dickens et de Charles Mathws (sic), le spirituel acteur du Lyceum."
A modern copy print from a stereoscopic portrait of Dickens, probably from a stereoscopic daguerreotype, is in the collection of the Dickens House Museum. This appears to have been the image used as the basis of an engraving "from a photograph by Mayall" published in 1856. It shows the author with the same moustache as in the daguerreotype here offered, suggesting another sitting before 1855 when Mayall sold his studio in the Strand. Another daguerreotype by Mayall, of Dickens's wife, Catherine, dates from the same period and it is quite possible the couple visited Mayall's studio together. The existence of more daguerreotypes by Mayall of Dickens is also suggested in an article written by Fred. G. Kitton in 1888, titled "Charles Dickens and his less familiar portraits" in The Magazine of Art, Vol. II, in which he states, "Besides the many daguerreotypes by Mayall [of Dickens]...."
In January 1853 Mayall took out a patent "for the production of imitation crayon drawings in or by the photographic process by the aid of a mechanical contrivance interposed between the object and the camera". This "contrivance" achieved a vignetted appearance in a portrait. A report in the Art Journal, October 1853, describes the appearance of these "crayon Daguerreotypes". "...the head and bust of the sitter, which, of course, are the most important parts...come out with remarkable clearness and delicacy, the background, if so it may be called, being shaded down to a degree of softness that is scarcely perceptible..." This writer continues "We saw in his [Mayall's] gallery a score or two of portraits of men we know personally; each one was the man himself - a living likeness, such as the most skilful painter could never set before us."
Mayall first worked as a photographer in the United States, and briefly, on his return to England in 1846, with Antoine Claudet. He quickly established a reputation as one of the leading London photographers, helped by his success at the International Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, where he exhibited 72 daguerreotypes, winning an Honourable Mention. Among the many other eminent sitters photographed by Mayall were the astronomer, Sir John Herschel, circa 1848, and Queen Victoria in 1855. The latter wrote in her journal "From 10 to 12 [July] was occupied in being photographed by Mr Mayall, who is the oddest man I ever saw, but an excellent photographer."
Christie's would like to thank Andrew Xavier, Curator, Dickens House Museum and Michael Slater, Professor of Victorian Literature at Birkbeck College, London for confirming the identity of the sitter and for kindly providing additional information regarding other portraits of Dickens.