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Portrait captured a less macabre Poe

In this watercolor by A.C. Smith, Edgar Allan Poe was at the peak of his success. In this watercolor by A.C. Smith, Edgar Allan Poe was at the peak of his success. (Associated Press)
Associated Press / January 19, 2010

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BALTIMORE - Edgar Allan Poe’s fertile imagination has endured for more than 150 years - and so has his pale, death-haunted image, with his sunken eyes, dark mustache, and unruly mop of curly hair.

However, scholars say Poe looked far more vigorous, perhaps even dashing, in his earlier years than he did in the well-known series of daguerreotypes taken in the final years of his life.

The more robust Poe was captured in a small watercolor by A.C. Smith, one of three surviving portraits of the author, which will be shown publicly for the first time Saturday and is expected to fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction.

In the portrait, Poe sits at a desk with pen and paper in hand, seemingly at the height of his creative powers. His upper lip is clean-shaven, though he sports long, bushy sideburns. And there’s the slightest hint of a smile on his face.

“It actually represents Poe as he appeared to his contemporaries - a handsome, sophisticated young man on the rise,’’ said Cliff Krainik, the owner of the portrait and a Poe scholar.

Smith was a miniaturist who worked at various times in Philadelphia and Baltimore, cities where Poe also lived, and Poe sat for the watercolor in 1843 or 1844 - five or six years before his death.