The Cult of Domesticity
Edwin Atwater, wife Lucy H. G. & daughter Maria, about 1845
Anonyme - Anonymous
about 1845, 19th century
Silver amalgam on metal (copper) - Daguerreotype
17 x 12 cm
Gift of Mrs. W. R. Dean
© McCord Museum
Keywords: group (610) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
Keys to History
Victorians delighted in new technologies, especially those that recorded their accomplishments. They called upon society photographers, like William Notman of Montreal, to document their businesses, families and homes. These photographs reveal how Canadians interpreted the domestic ideal. Members of the middle-class establishment wanted it to be recognized that their wives did not have to labour outside the home and had servants to do heavy housework.
Looking at Mrs. Atwater, we see that Victorian clothing emphasized a woman's separation from the world of work. Corsets made breathing difficult. Crinolines and hoops made sudden movements hazardous. Tightly fitted sleeves placed physical constraints on the wearer--had she wanted to, she could not lift her arms.
This very early photograph is a daguerreotype. This was a unique and highly detailed image created on a sheet of copper plated with a thin coat of silver.
The high costs of daguerreotypes (approximately five dollars) meant that studios were mainly established in centres that had a significant population of wealthy consumers.
A French inventor, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, developed this new photographic process in 1839, and it was soon available in North American cities.
The artist did not sign this daguerreotype. Family records reveal that the Atwater family patronized different photographers in the midcentury.