April 1–October 15, 2023

Painted Tintypes: Photography for the People

Tintypes—or ferrotypes—were first introduced in the US in the 1850s. Made by printing photographic images onto sheets of thin metal, they were inexpensive to produce, offering an affordable alternative to painted portraits. Often they were hand painted by women using oils, watercolors, and dry pigments. Each one was unique—a product of the makers exploring their creative potential. Most of the tintypes were housed in decorative frames, some of which are remarkably inventive in their own right. By 1860 tintypes proliferated through all levels of society, becoming an important form of remembrance of sons fighting in the Civil War and families moving westward.

“Painted Tintypes: Photography for the People” explores the rich tradition of this quintessentially American art form, paying tribute to the photographers, sitters, painters, and frame makers who made this early form of photography so popular. The exhibition features approximately 40 hand-painted tintypes on loan from several private collections, complemented by a pair of examples from the MFA’s collection.

Tintypes had a unique way of bringing people together—captivating the imaginations of those from diverse socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. While most of these works are unsigned and the identities of many sitters are unrecorded, they nevertheless provide an important visual record of 19th-century America and the strivings of everyday people to represent themselves at their very best.

  • Herb Ritts Gallery (Gallery 169)

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Supported by the Benjamin A. Trustman and Julia M. Trustman Fund.