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TWAIN, MARK. - Large and Stunning Photograph Signed by Mark Twain
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TWAIN, MARK. - Large and Stunning Photograph Signed by Mark Twain

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TWAIN, MARK (SAMUEL CLEMENS). (1835-1910). American humorist and writer; author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and other American classics. SP. (“Mark Twain”). 1p. Small folio. (Paper Size: 10” x 13½”, Image Size: 6 7/8” x 9¼”). N.p., 1907 (but dated 1904 in the plate). A lovely and rich sepia-toned photograph depicting Twain from the waist up, with his thumbs hooked in his waistcoat pockets, gazing directly into the camera. Signed in dark brown ink in the center of the lower blank margin. Our image was captured by the prominent New York photographer JOSEPH G. GESSFORD (1866-1942), who has added the year and his signature, “Gessford” to the right of Twain’s autograph.


Twain earned national recognition in 1865 with the publication of his story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” in the New York Saturday Press. His subsequent works included The Innocents Abroad, Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. His literary output brought him fame and a steady stream of admirers and correspondents. Following his wife Olivia’s death in 1904, Twain lived in a Fifth Avenue brownstone in New York City, until returning to Connecticut in 1908.


Active beginning in 1883, Gessford’s prominent subjects, largely photographed in his Fifth Avenue studio, included Andrew Carnegie, George Westinghouse, Theodore Roosevelt, as well as socialites and entertainers; his portraits were often published in The New York Times. After photographing Mark Twain in 1904 in his Berkshire studio for publication in Berkshire Topics, the author’s secretary relayed Twain’s displeasure that Gessford did not send prints of his work. Gessford explained, “I could no more afford to give you these pictures than you can afford to write books for free.”


“While Gessford does not err in assuming that Twain certainly would not give away his writing, he fails to see that Twain imagines that photographic images, in the case of celebrities, belong to the body with which they are associated. Twain does not recognize the photographer as the creator of these images, perhaps in part because of the implicit understanding of photographs as ‘natural’ art, but mostly because he conceives of himself as the creator of his own image – the photograph is made in his image. Twain's objection that he has already donated valuable time to the photographer implicitly points to his status as celebrity,” (Picturing Ourselves: Photography and Autobiography, Rugg).


Our image was subsequently used as the frontispiece for the 1923 Gabriel Wells Definitive Edition of Mark Twain’s Speeches.


Although the original presentation folder and tissue guard have suffered some water damage, the photograph is in remarkably fine condition, with only some creasing in the lower right corner. This is among one of the finest photographs of Twain ever taken.


Item #20433


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