Portrait of a girl with a plait


Title: Portrait of a girl with a plait

Author: Julisz Mien’s Art Photo Lab, ul. Podwale 13, Krakow

Created in: 1893-1900

Kept at: Walery Rzewuski Museum of History of Photography in Krakow

The photograph is in the shape of an upright rectangle glued onto a slightly larger cream-coloured rectangular cardboard matte. The size difference between the photo and the cardboard results in margins, almost the same on the sides and at the upper edge. The lower margin is much wider. The corners of the cardboard matte are slightly rounded. Executed in the so called visiting-card format, the photograph is 16 ½by 10 cm in size. Such photos were once used as business cards and were readily exchanged.

The photo has a light-blue background. There are no details beyond the foreground. The image is almost flat. The portrayed girl occupies nearly the entire area of the photograph. She is clearly focused, assuming an almost stiff pose for fear of moving while the picture is being taken. The girl is shown in a plunging bust format, nearly down to the waist, her chest three quarters to the left, head in left profile. The unsmiling face, eyes wide open, looking ahead, fixed on a single point; she has clearly outlined eyebrows, sharp nose, narrow mouth, small chin and pinkish cheeks. Her clearly marked jaw line runs from the ear to the chin. The forehead is covered by a short and slightly wavy fringe. Her hair is combed back smoothly, from the neck arranged in a plait falling onto the girl’s left shoulder and then downwards all the way to her waist. The left ear is uncovered and clearly outlined. Her long neck is exposed, and the neckline somewhat low cut. She is wearing a pink blouse with partly visible puffed sleeves. In the neckline area the fabric is thickly draped into a stylised collar, thanks to which the photograph seems to acquire a three-dimensional quality here, and the model’s chest appears larger than in reality.

Below the photo, the cardboard matte bears brown lithographed inscriptions: on the left side the name of the photographer, J. Mien, on the right side “Cracovie” – the French word for Cracow. On the cream-coloured back of the matte there are lithographed inscriptions and decorative plant motifs in brown. Centrally in the upper section: a two-line inscription (in Polish): HONORABLE DIPLOMA / LVIV 1894. On both sides of the second line and below it is a rich, symmetrically arranged ornament based on a flower motif. Below the decoration is a four-line inscription with various typefaces used: JULIUSZ MIEN’S / ART AND PHOTOGRAPHIC LABORATORY / PODWALE 13 / KRAKOW / PODWALE 13. Below the inscription is yet another impressive plant ornament. In the lower right corner, the photo’s stock number is handwritten in pencil: MHF 5707/II.

The photograph is coloured, meaning that it is taken as black and white and then coloured with crayons. Photo labs often employed art school and university students as well as retouchers, who would colour photos using crayons, inks and gouache as they pleased, guided only by their taste. The photos often failed to reflect the real colours of the costumes, props and atelier fittings.

Lithography is a flat-print graphic technique. The drawing to be reproduced is applied onto stone using a greasing crayon or lithographic ink. Once the drawing is complete, the surface of the stone is treated with a weak solution of nitric acid and gum arabic, making the undrawn sections resistant to staining with greasy ink yet still able to absorb water. The drawing is moistened and then printing ink is applied onto it, absorbed only by the sections greased with crayon. Impressions are made by placing moistened paper on the stone acting as a template and imprinting it in a lithographic press. Lithographed cardboard mattes with photographs glued onto them were used for advertising purposes as well as to promote the photo labs were they were created.

Portrait of a girl with a plait reverse