Carvalho, Solomon Nunes

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CARVALHO, SOLOMON NUNES (1815–1897), U.S. artist, early photographer, inventor, Jewish communal leader. Carvalho was born in Charleston, South Carolina, to a Sephardi family. His family was very active in secular and religious activities; indeed his father, David, was one of the founders of the Reformed Society of Israelites, the first reform congregation in the United States, and his uncle Emanuel was an itinerant rabbi at several early American congregations.

Carvalho's artistic schooling is unclear, but it is possible that he studied with Thomas Sully. While one of his earliest paintings is of the interior of his childhood synagogue (1838), his career as a professional painter began as a portrait maker. At the age of 25 years old he painted Child with Rabbits, an image later reproduced on U.S. one-, two-, five-, and ten-dollar bills. After the invention of daguerreotype photographs in 1839, Carvalho took up the process. Between 1849 and 1853 he had photography studios in Baltimore, Charleston, Philadelphia, and New York. In 1853–54 he served as the official photographer of a 2,400-mile exploratory expedition through the territories of Kansas, Colorado, and Utah; the goal of this survey – the fifth led by General John Charles Frémont – was to map out a transcontinental railway route between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Coast. Unfortunately, all but one of Carvalho's several hundred photographs of the trip are lost. A painting of a Utah Indian Chief (1854, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa) and a sketch of a dead child (1854) survive. However, Carvalho wrote a popular volume on the expedition that went through a number of printings, called Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West. Reconstructed from Carvalho's journal and letters written to his wife, this volume discusses the rigors and the discoveries of the journey, while also providing personal reflections and commentary.

After returning from the expedition, Carvalho again painted portraits. In addition to depicting members of the Jewish community, he made allegorical portraits, including one of Abraham Lincoln (1865, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University). He also tried his hand at biblical painting, such as the now lost Intercession of Moses for Israel (c. 1852), and landscapes, some of which are based on his travels west. Unable to make a decent living as an artist, Carvalho invented two steam heaters, which were patented in 1877 and 1878.

Following the example set by his father, Carvalho was a leader in Jewish communal affairs, particularly in Jewish education. He lived in several cities, including Philadelphia, where he served as an elected officer of the Hebrew Education Society (1849–50), and in Baltimore, where he founded the Sephardi congregation Beth Israel in 1857, which disbanded two years later because of financial problems.


S.N. Carvalho, Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West (reprint 1973); J. Sturhahn, Carvalho (1976); E. Berman, "Transcendentalism and Tradition," in: Jewish Art (1990–91): 64–81.

[Samantha Baskind (2nd ed.)]

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Carvalho, Solomon Nunes

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