(1821 – 1896) was an American lithographer and photographer. He was a
highly popular and prolific portrait photographer, most known for his
portraits of the stars of late 19th century American theater.
Sarony was born in Quebec in 1821 and moved to New York City around 1836.
He worked as an illustrator for Currier and Ives before joining with James
Major and starting his own lithography business, Sarony & Major, in 1843.
In 1845, James Major was replaced by Henry B. Major in Sarony & Major and
it continued operating under that name until 1853. From 1853 to 1857, the
firm was known as Sarony and Company, and from 1857 to 1867, as Sarony,
Major & Knapp. Sarony left the firm in 1867 and established a photography
studio at 37 Union Square, during a time when celebrity portraiture was a
popular fad. Photographers would pay their famous subjects to sit for
them, and then retain full rights to sell the pictures. Sarony reportedly
paid famed stage actress Sarah Bernhardt $1,500 to pose for his camera,
the equivalent of more than $20,000 today.
One of Sarony's portraits of writer Oscar Wilde became the subject of a
U.S. Supreme Court case, Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony 111 U.S.
53(1884), in which the Court upheld the extension of copyright protection
to photographs. Sarony sued Burrow-Giles after it used unauthorized
lithographs of Oscar Wilde No. 18 in an advertisement, and won a judgment
for $610 (the modern equivalent of just over $12,000) that was affirmed on
appeal by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
Sarony later photographed the Supreme Court itself, to celebrate the
centennial of the federal judiciary in 1890.
Sarony was married twice. His first wife died in 1858; his second, Louie,
reportedly shared his tendency towards eccentricity and preference for
outlandish dress. She rented elaborate costumes that she wore during her
daily afternoon walk through Washington Square, wearing them once before