The Sweetheart’s Portrait

Feb 17, 2014

In the 1860s, the Kellogg brothers of Hartford, Connecticut published a lithograph called “The Sweetheart’s Portrait.” The print was so popular that it was reissued at least once and it was also reproduced as a photograph.  It shows two fluffy white cats playing with a small oval painted portrait of a young woman attached to a ribbon and chain.  Such portraits had gone out of fashion twenty years earlier, when photography replaced painting as the primary means of portraiture.

The Connecticut Historical Society has a large collection of portrait miniatures, most dating from the 1840s and earlier.  These small portraits were commonly given as keepsakes to sweethearts and spouses.  Husbands and wives often had their portraits painted at the same time and encased in matching frames, sometimes with the owner’s initials inscribed on the frame and a lock of the subject’s hair tucked into a special compartment in the frame’s back.  Such portraits were often made at the time of the couple’s wedding. 

While early miniatures were usually encased in pendants and worn as jewelry, later miniatures were often framed, or housed in the plastic or leather cases intended for the early photographs known as daguerreotypes. A pair of portraits of Samuel Watkinson Collins and his wife Sarah by an unknown artist are housed in daguerreotype cases.  The rectangular format of the portraits, the inclusion of more of the sitters’ bodies, and the suggestion of a chair back behind them are characteristic of early photographs.  Samuel Collins was one of the founders of the Collins Company in Collinsville, Connecticut.  Cased miniatures might be carried in a pocket, but framed miniatures would have hung on a wall or perhaps stood on a bedside table.  The tradition for incorporating a sweetheart’s portrait into jewelry continued on into the age of photography.  Some early photographs were mounted in pendants or brooches that were intended to be worn by their owners.

Originally issued at the time of the Civil War, the Kellogg print, “The Sweetheart’s Portrait,” may have been meant to evoke an absent husband or lover, the owner and not the subject of the miniature. The white cats are related to the cats that appear in Kellogg Civil War cartoons and they are featured in many other popular prints from the period.