William Valentine and the first permanent photo studio in British North America
William Valentine, the youngest son to parents Joseph and Ann Valentine, was born in 1798 and baptized on 8 April 1798 in St Nicholas’ Church, Whitehaven, England. He arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1818 with brushes and paint in hand to begin a career as an artist.
William Valentine - self portrait
His career struggled until the 1830’s, and by 1836 he was back in England to further develop his skills. Evidence shows he was quite familiar with the Royal Society and was known to have made oil on canvas copies of three former Presidents (among other works) of the illustrious club.
Did Valentine meet Talbot during this time when the inventor of the Photogenic Drawing was most active?
It is also quite easy to speculate that William Valentine was the individual who made the samples of Photogenic Drawings in Halifax during the week of 31 May – 6 June of 1839, three months prior to the public release of the Daguerreotype process.
“While no conclusive statement can be made, it is possible that the "friend" to whom the writer, sic The Colonial Pearl editor, referred was the well-known Halifax portraitist WiIliam Valentine,” writes Jim Burant in his 1977 grad school thesis.
What is known is that William Valentine developed into the finest portrait artist in Nova Scotia recognized for “preserving the lineaments of many notable persons,” according to the eminent historian Harry Piers.
In November of 1841 William Valentine took out an advertisement in the Saint John Morning News (New Brunswick). He was returning from Boston where he had acquired a first rate apparatus and the skills to produce Daguerreotypes. In January of 1842 he repeated the advertisement in Halifax, and would open his “rooms” at 4 Marchington Lane; very near the current day Halifax Casino. The artist would ply his new skills of polishing copper and fuming with mercury in Halifax until fire destroyed the building in 1848. As a result of this permanence, the Rooms operated by William Valentine can be recognized as the first permanent photo studio in British North America, according to art historian Jim Burant.
Valentine would die on Boxing Day (Dec 26) of 1850, and was laid to rest in the Camp Hill Cemetery not far from his friends Peter Norbert (noted silversmith), Joseph Howe (statesman) and Alexander Keith (brewmaster). Joseph Howe would publish and read the eulogy.
Thomas Coffin Doane
Sidebar: Thomas Coffin Doane, another Nova Scotian, and considered a Canadian photography pioneer, first studied with Valentine and then formed a business partnership making daguerreotypes and painting miniature oils in their travels to Newfoundland and possibly Prince Edward Island. Doane was honoured with recognition on a Canada Post stamp.