Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Butterfly Portrait

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Butterfly Portrait

Article excerpt

Whitman described this image as a " 2/3 length with hat outdoor rustic." Taken by W. Curtis Taylor of Broadbent & Taylor in the spring of 1877, this photograph was recalled by Thomas Donaldson and Elizabeth Keller as being Whitman's favorite. This infamous portrait, however, led to a great deal of skepticism about Whitman's honesty, since Whitman sometimes claimed the butterfly was real. "Yes-that was an actual moth," he told Traubel; "the picture is substantially literal: we were good friends: I had quite the in-and-out of taming, or fraternizing with, some of the insects, animals." Whitman told the historian William Roscoe Thayer, "I've always had the knack of attracting birds and butterflies and other wild critters." Thayer later wryly commented: "How it happened that a butterfly should have been waiting in the studio on the chance that Walt might drop in to be photographed, or why Walt should be clad in a thick cardigan jacket on any day when butterflies would have been disporting themselves in the fields, I have never been able to explain. …

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