The Young Violinist

The Young Violinist

John C. Lee, an active member of the Boston Camera Club in the late 1880’s-early 1890’s, exhibited his photographic work in Boston as early as 1884, when he took part in the second annual exhibition of the Boston Society of Amateur Photographers in the gallery of the Boston Art Club from November 24-27. Identified as J.C. Lee of Roxbury, Massachusetts, he is listed under the exhibit section for “Animals”.  (1.)  By 1888, he is a member of the Boston Camera Club. A review of his work in Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin revealed he had traveled abroad extensively by this time, including visits to Russia, Holland and Germany. Italy may have also been on his travel agenda, and the portrait of this young Italian street musician seen on PhotoSeed may have been taken there, or not.  The following is a short review:

In Class 16—Foreign Pictures—John C. Lee, of the Boston Camera Club, received the diploma for pictures taken in Russia, Holland and Germany. These pictures were very interesting and well taken. But there were two little gems by the same exhibitor that pleased us very much; these were “Woods at Riverdale, N. Y.,” a charming little piece of woodland scenery, full of detail and beauty in light and shade; and the “Yacht Gretchen, off Egg Rock,” a bit of pretty marine work of great beauty and clearness.  (2.)

1888 or 1889 is the most likely date for The Young Violinist.  But could this portrait have been done in the city of Boston? An amusing anecdote relating Lee’s interest in photographing ethnic Italians in the city was singled out in a letter to the editor of The American Amateur Photographer:

Now that the summer is here, the members of the Camera Club are resorting to outdoor work, and except for the enthusiasts who still use the studio to “shoot” their friends, and an occasional reader, the club rooms seem almost deserted. Mr. J. C. Lee, one of our most expert members, having successfully transfixed a large number of the newsboys in excellent poses, has set himself to studying the Italian of the north end. This afternoon he expects to catch some of them in the act of eating their favorite macaroni.  (3.)

On Monday evening, January 6, 1890, Lee was elected librarian of the Boston Camera Club. An informal exhibition was held in conjunction with the election meeting and he was awarded the prize of a year’s subscription to a photographic journal for “Boy with Violin“, believed to be this photograph on display that night as part of the exhibit.  (4.)

Interestingly, the title of the work was changed to “The Young Musician” for an exhibition at the club the following year in 1891:

In regard to the Boston exhibits, one or two members were very profuse in the quantity of work sent, some of it being of excellent quality. There was not such a general representation of what the club can do as was hoped, owing, it is said, to a lack of interest, and to a dislike on the part of some to the absence of all classification.
Beginning with the portrait of an Italian boy by Mr. John C. Lee, we noticed that entitled “The Young Musician,” as being very naturally posed, soft and pleasing, while the black background brought out the whole picture in strong relief. It reminded us of the softness of a daguerreotype image. (5.)

In 1892, the photograph underwent further revision, and the title to the work became known as The Young Violinist. In July, The American Amateur Photographer reproduced it as their frontis photogravure. Editorial comment for it appeared as follows in the issue:

We present with this number an attractive figure study which won a diploma at the Boston Fifth Annual Joint Exhibition, by Mr. John C. Lee, a member of the Boston Camera Club.
The natural pose of the lad, the soft, equal lighting of the face, the fullness of detail and the clearness of the picture all go towards making it a most interesting study. Mr. Lee is to be congratulated on his success. In reply to our inquiry as to what he used in making the picture, he says, the negative was taken with a No. 3 Euryscope lens on a Cramer plate and developed with pyro-ammonia.  (6.)

The photograph was obviously well received in the 1892 joint exhibition held in Boston, (7.) and Lee chose to assign a copyright to it the same year.  After the larger audience of club members from Philadelphia and New York had seen it, the New York Photogravure Company, which had previously made the gravure plate for the July issue of the American Amateur Photographer, made the business decision of making an extraordinarily large copper plate of The Young Violinist, of which this impression is a very rare surviving example.


1. The Exhibition of the Boston Society of Amateur Photographers: in: The Photographic Times and American Photographer: New York: December 5, 1884: pp. 636-637
2. Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin: May 26, 1888: p. 291
3. Boston Letter: in: The American Amateur Photographer: Brunswick, ME: Vol. 1: July, 1889: pp. 30-31
4. Boston Camera Club: in: The Photographic Times: January 24, 1890: p. 46
5. The American Amateur Photographer: August, 1891: p. 285
6. Our Illustration: in: The American Amateur Photographer: July, 1892: p. 306
7. Boston Camera Club: from: Wikipedia: accessed: July, 2012: “The first outside exhibitions in which the Boston Camera Club participated were the so-called Joint Exhibitions of Photography, sponsored jointly by the Boston Camera Club, Photographic Society of Philadelphia, and Society of Amateur Photographers of New York.”

print notes: “Copyright 1892 by John C. Lee.” : centered outside top image recto impression

-margins are most likely trimmed as slight evidence this photograph had been framed exists on lower border

The Young Violinist

Image Dimensions40.3 x 31.0 cm

Support Dimensions47.6 x 35.5 cm