Search Database

Translate this page

  Theodore C. Marceau, Photographer

Photographic entrepreneur Theodore Christopher Marceau was born in Ogdensburg, New York on May 28/29, 1859. Virtually nothing is known about his parentage, childhood, education, or his introduction to photography. However, by age 22, he was working as a federal government photographer in Santiago, Chile, as part of a South American astronomical expedition financed by the U. S. government to record the transit (movement) of Venus. After returning stateside, Mr. Marceau traded in his career as traveling photographer for staff positions in the administrations of Ohio Governor Joseph B. Foraker and later California Governor Henry Markham.

By 1886, Mr. Marceau elected to leave his comfortable career in public service to return to photography, with a decided emphasis upon the business side. He developed a plan to establish photographic partnerships in major cities throughout several states (beginning with Randolph "Ralph" Bellsmith in Cincinnati); and when the companies began showing a profit, he would sell his shares to his partners. Believed to be the first owner of photographic studio chains, Mr. Marceau distinguished them by focusing on particular specialty areas, such as portraits, scientific views, and photojournalism. His interest in entertainment resulted in an increasingly theatrical emphasis, using stage props and painted backgrounds in portraiture. The studio chain, which included galleries in Boston, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, became full-service local enterprises, which included covering social, civic, and business events throughout their respective cities.

In 1888, Mr. Marceau settled in San Francisco and opened a luxurious studio in the Phelan Building. His West Coast partner, Frederick Bushnell, later followed his lead and opened his own lucrative Pacific studio chain. Obviously more astute as a businessman than in matters of the heart, Mr. Marceau entered into a disastrous marriage with San Francisco widow Amanda Newman Fiske. The couple separated shortly after the birth of Theodore Jr., and engaged in a very ugly protracted divorce, which nearly bankrupted the photographer-turned-businessman. Hoping to salvage his professional reputation, Mr. Marceau and his young son moved to New York City in 1900, where he managed a studio for Otto Sarony (son of photographic pioneer Napoleon Sarony) and his own Marceau Studios, located at 258 Fifth Avenue. Described as "one of the finest and most perfectly appointed in the country," the lavish interior befitted the predominantly celebrity clientele that eagerly sought portrait sittings. Some of Mr. Marceau's most noteworthy clients included Sarah Bernhardt, Andrew Carnegie, John F. Fitzgerald (grandfather of future President John F. Kennedy), and Warren G. Harding.

With his fortunes turned around both literally and figuratively speaking, Mr. Marceau married 18-year-old Grace Marguerite Fuson in 1903. It was a happy union that lasted for the remainder of his life. The next year, he, along with fellow portraitist Pirie MacDonald and others, founded the Professional Photographers Society of New York State, and Mr. Marceau was unanimously elected its First Vice President in 1904. He, Mr. MacDonald, and colleague B. J. Falk then organized the Copyright League designed to protect photographers from having their images reprinted by newspapers without their permission. Sixty-three-year-old photography tycoon Theodore C. Marceau died suddenly of heart failure on June 22, 1922. His son, a Yale-educated attorney, sold his father's New York studio shortly thereafter. Although a few of Mr. Marceau's celebrity photographs are housed in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC or the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, the majority of them presently reside in private collections.

1901 Anthony's Photographic Bulletin, Vol. XXXII (New York: E. & H. T. Anthony & Co.), p. 36.

1922 Bulletin of Photography, Vol. XXX (Philadelphia: Frank V. Chambers), p. 813.

2015 Cute Little Girl in Cincinnati, Ohio (URL:

2017 John F. Fitzgerald, Mayor of Boston (URL:

2014 Larchmont the Beautiful (URL:

1922 Photo-Era Magazine, Vol. XLVIII (Wolfeboro, NH: A. H. Beardsley), p. 107.

1904 The Photographic Times, Vol. XXXVI (New York: The Photographic Times-Bulletin Publishing Association), p. 445.

2017 Sarah Bernhardt Standing in a Studio Setting, Holding a Little Black Dog on an Ornate, Carved Wooden Pedestal (URL:

2007 The 1882 Transit of Venus as Seen from Chile (URL:

2017 Theodore C. Marceau (URL:

2017 Theodore Marceau: The Pioneer of Photographic Studios (URL:

# 3603
2019-01-02 21:17:31

Return to Previous Page
Return to the History Librarium

Copyright © 2002 - 2022 Historic Camera