Edward Heron-Allen in America:

A Rare Photograph by Napoleon Sarony

Article by Joan Navarre

When I presented a paper on Edward Heron-Allen in America (EH-A Society Meeting of 7 July 2002) I posed a research question: Where are all the photographs of EH-A?

EH-A documents that he had been photographed numerous times while in America (1886-1889). However, only a few photographs are known to exist. Ivor E. Jones owns an original, taken while EH-A was lecturing in Chicago, and this was published in The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde (2000). Another photograph appears in Major J.B. Pond's Eccentricities of Genius: Memories of Famous Men and Women of the Platform and Stage (1900), along with a biographical essay. Since my talk, I have located an original photograph of EH-A in America. It is in the Print Collection of The New York Public Library, and it can be viewed on the internet, thanks to the NYPL Digital Gallery.

The photograph, a carte de visite, was taken by Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896). Known as the father of artistic photography, Sarony is famous for his photographs of celebrities, such as Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde. The Sarony photograph, circa late 1886-early 1887, shows EH-A in formal attire: bow tie, watch fob and black cape. He is perfectly coiffed and he sports a slight mustache. His hands are large, and his stance is one of confidence and authority. No wonder he captured the attention of fashionable society!

EH-A mentions Sarony in his American journal. On the 1st of November 1886, his first full day in New York City, he mingled with the rich and famous, and he met the great photographer. By the 13th of November he had been photographed by Sarony. He would return to Sarony's studio. However, much is left unsaid. EH-A does not describe Sarony's studio at 37 Union Square nor does he say how many photographs were taken.

I have recently returned from New York City. I examined the rare Sarony photograph, looking for clues. EH-A's handwriting does not appear. On the back of the photograph there is a previous owner's stamp: J.H. James. This photograph is from the John Henry James Collection. Someone (perhaps Mr. James) has identified EH-A: "reader of palms, deceased".

Numerous photographs of EH-A in America once existed. Where have they all gone? It is good to know that one original Sarony photograph has a safe and permanent home, and it is accessible to all. I remain hopeful that other photographs will surface and shed light on the life and times of EH-A.

I would like to thank The New York Public Library (Digital Image ID 498293) and
Ivor E. Jones and the Heron-Allen Estate.

[This article is also published in the HA Society Newsletter No. 12]