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Spectacular Portraits of Celebrities from the late-19th Century by Jose Maria Mora

Jose Maria Mora was a Cuban-American portrait photographer active in New York City in the 1870s and 1880s. Born to wealthy Cuban landowners, Mora lived and trained as a painter in Paris. However, the Ten Years’ War forced his family to flee Havana and settle in New York City. Once his family moved to New York, Mora could not continue his studies in painting. He worked for celebrity photographer Napoleon Sarony, who taught him the art of painted retouching, an early form of photo manipulation. After working with Sarony for two years, Mora established his portrait studio. He became a friendly rival of his former mentor and contemporary stage photographers like Benjamin J. Falk.

Mora specialized in photographing celebrities from the Gilded Age, including actors, opera singers, writers, and New York City society members. The New York Metropolitan Opera and Manhattan’s high-society costume balls commissioned him to paint portraits during the 1870s and 1880s. Photographs he took of comic actors, burlesque dancers, and clowns were featured regularly in illustrated newspapers like the National Police Gazette. Mora’s work stood out from competing photographers because he used large-scale painted backdrops that gave the appearance that his subjects had been transported to exotic or fantastic locations.

#1 Mrs. August Belmont, 1880

Mrs. August Belmont, 1880

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#2 Mrs. William Garner, 1873

Mrs. William Garner, 1873

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#3 Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt (neé Alva Erskine Smith), 1883

Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt (neé Alva Erskine Smith), 1883

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#4 Mrs. August Belmont (neé Caroline Slidell Perry), 1883

Mrs. August Belmont (neé Caroline Slidell Perry), 1883

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#5 Mrs. Henry T. Sloane (neé Jessie Robbins and later Mrs. Perry Belmont), 1883

Mrs. Henry T. Sloane (neé Jessie Robbins and later Mrs. Perry Belmont), 1883

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#6 Mr. May, 1883

Mr. May, 1883

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#7 Mr. Halsey Haight, 1883

Mr. Halsey Haight, 1883

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#8 Mr. Horatio Whitwell, 1883

Mr. Horatio Whitwell, 1883

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#9 Alice Oats, 1880-1885

Alice Oats, 1880-1885

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#10 Gabrielle du Sauld, 1880s

Gabrielle du Sauld, 1880s

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#11 Malvina Pray, ca. 1880s

Malvina Pray, ca. 1880s

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#12 Maude Branscombe, 1880s

Maude Branscombe, 1880s

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#13 Eugenia Nicholson, 1885

Eugenia Nicholson, 1885

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#14 Emmeline Young, 1885

Emmeline Young, 1885

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#15 Minnie Palmer, 1885

Minnie Palmer, 1885

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#16 Gracie Hall, 1885

Gracie Hall, 1885

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#17 Ellen Morant, 1885

Ellen Morant, 1885

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#18 Ida Vernon, 1885

Ida Vernon, 1885

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#19 Mary Anderson, 1885

Mary Anderson, 1885

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#20 Susette LaFlesche Tibbles, 1879

Susette LaFlesche Tibbles, 1879

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#21 William Cullen Bryant, 1878.

William Cullen Bryant, 1878.

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#22 Minnie Maddern Fiske, 1880.

Minnie Maddern Fiske, 1880.

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#23 Dora Wiley, 1885.

Dora Wiley, 1885.

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Written by Aurora Hale

I am a blogger, entrepreneur and small business coach. I'm an introvert and cat lover. My favourite hobbies are breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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