Crayon portrait in the CFPL Art Collection. Original from the bequest of Sophia E. Thoreau, 1876/1877.
The 1854 Rowse crayon portrait is one of only three major portraits of Thoreau made during his lifetime. (The other two are the 1856 Maxham daguerreotype and the 1861 Dunshee ambrotype.) It was sketched in the summer of 1854, the year Walden was first published.
Remembered for his sensitive crayon portraits, Samuel Worcester Rowse was a well-known mid-nineteenth-century painter, illustrator, and lithographer. In the summer of 1854, he came to Concord to draw a portrait of Emerson. Boarding with the Thoreaus, he was asked by Mrs. Thoreau to draw a portrait of her son Henry, too. The resulting work is an idealization of the subject. It shows a softer, gentler Henry Thoreau than either the Maxham or the Dunshee. Although some of Thoreau’s friends thought that this crayon portrait failed to capture the subject’s personality, members of his family liked it.
Prominently displayed in the reading room of the Concord Free Public Library in the late nineteenth century, the Rowse portrait of Thoreau helped nurture the public image of this place as a shrine to local literary saints.
This image may not be reproduced in any form, including electronic, without permission from the Curator of the William Munroe Special Collections, Concord Free Public Library, Concord, Mass.