MATTHEW DIES VAN LOAN . . . Was the daguerreotypist who produced this outstanding sixth plate character study in his New York City Studio circa late 1842-1843. I have seen three extant sixth plates besides this masterwork. Two had the same painted background, but the US Capitol building seen through a painted window was that scene. The third example was a variant of this idyllic Hudson River composition. On those dags ?By Van Loan NY? was fully or partially visible on the edge of a table. In my portrait, ?Van Loan . . .? was printed at the base of a decorative urn. In the scan of the naked plate, which was heavy and without a hallmark, it is plain to see that three corners were rounded and the lower left one was slightly clipped at an angle. The four sides were flat. The white object lower right was a piece from the inside of the oval paper mat that was covered with gold foil. Unfortunately, moisture caused some of it to stick to the original glass when I performed the conservation. John Craig mentioned that Van Loan was associated with Wolcott & Johnson beginning in July 1841 and by September he operated alone in the Granite Building that was located on First St. between First and Second Avenues just above Houston. Erin actually lived diagonally across from the studio?s location when she lived in the city and attended Grad School at NYU. Unfortunately, the building had been torn down long ago. In 1842-1843 Van Loan had locations at 73 Chambers St. and 236 Broadway, but probably not simultaneously. These galleries would have been on two sides of the loose triangle of streets that surrounded City Hall, well south from his first location. Obviously, I am coming to the plausible conclusion that each time he inhabited a different studio he changed his backgrounds. Although the silver was very pitted and crudely buffed in both circular (sort of) and horizontal directions, the sophistication of the brilliant illumination and the total relaxation of the subject suggest that this daguerreotype might have been done after the others. The deeply copper hued flesh tones along with wear shown on the gent?s large filthy fingers tells us that he was involved in an occupation that required manual exertion! He wore a white shirt with a high collar and a very fashionable waistcoat that would have had a tail in the back. The small neatly knotted dark tie and cream-colored vest complimented his white trousers. I should mention that Van Loan moved his camera back from his subjects in all the examples I have examined. He was comfortable presenting them in three-quarter view, unlike the majority of operators making daguerreotypes even at the end of the very early period. The focus overall and the tremendous range of tonality was extremely impressive. The pinpoints of reflected light and the fall of the shadows indicated that the source of brightness was through a small skylight on the left side of Van Loan?s patron. It was very rare to have any man or woman so delightfully engaged once their likeness was completed. Although the fellow looked beyond the lens, I KNOW from his friendly demeanor that he was a very amicable chap. I should also mention that the layer of varnish or possible an early use of gold chloride was extremely thick on the surface. The patina has formed over the past 174 years. There is a mold spider on the man?s face (hold on, I will tell you who he was in a minute), a bit of degradation on his jacket lapel and some brown dots. Pinned to the plain red silk pad is a small scrap of paper. Written in pencil: ?Uncle Peter Walker?. The leather case has a new professionally spine. On the cover is an early variant of the classic Grecian Urn. The reverse was plain.
From Richard Majka, a dear friend, avid collector of fine daguerreotypes and the man I entrust dag research to: ?Dear Dennis, I believe I have your man identified. I spent three hours last night in digging through various sources and they all point to one gent living in New York City in the 1840?s. Fortunately, Peter Walker is not as common a name as I thought it might be?it?s a blessing he wasn?t named John or James! So, I started with the 1850 census of New York City and found the following man living there in Ward 8: Peter Walker, 50-year-old police, born N.Y. This information was backed up by the entries in the New York City directories (only one Peter Walker was listed):
1845 Doggett?s New York City Directory: p. 394: Walker Peter B. late police officer, 80 Watts
1846/7 Doggett?s New York City Directory: p. 407: Walker Peter B. late police officer, 11 N. Moore
Looking at the daguerreotype, I can believe the subject was a police officer. He has a confident, rather jaunty, appearance, and is rather too well dressed for a workman, although not slick enough to be from the upper crust. According to the records of the Dutch Reformed Church, New York City, Peter Walker was born on 9 February 1797.?