When not intimidated by his second wife, James Black railed against her spendthrift habits. “I’ll not cover her back in silk out of my money,” he thundered during an atypically long monologue.
After Black’s death in 1870, the oft-wed Widow Black traded her usual taffeta for a riotous plaid dress, immortalized in a luxurious setting by San Francisco’s eminent photographers Henry William Bradley (1813-1891) and William Herman Rulofson (1826-1878).
Bradley & Rulofson opened their gallery in in 1863 at 429 Montgomery Street. They exhibited at the San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute’s competitions from 1864 through 1874, winning prizes in 1864, 1865, and again in 1871. Bradley and Rulofson photographed hundreds of celebrities and notable Californians, including Bret Hart, Susan B. Anthony, Queen Emma of Hawaii, and the wonderfully eccentric Emperor Joshua A Norton.
Rulofson’s photographs won gold medals in Vienna (1873), as noted on the back of Mrs. Black’s photograph.
The back of Mrs. Black’s photograph also touts the studio’s “only elevator connected with photography in the world.” The partners paid $4,000 for an hydraulic elevator in 1872 but the lift’s photographic use is unknown. Perhaps it was nothing more exotic than a way to avoid the stairs, a blessing Mrs. Black surely appreciated.
To learn more about the role Maria Loretta Duarte Pacheco Black Velasco (oft-wed, remember?) played in the Black family tragedy, pre-order your copy of Marriage, Murder and Betrayal in Nineteenth-Century California.