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    The Father of American Photo-Journalism

    Mathew Brady: Believed to Be Earliest Known Daguerreotype Portrait. A quarter plate daguerreotype of Mathew Brady, housed in an embossed leather frame (separated at spine). Outside of some faint scratches to the plate, concentrated towards the bottom, it is in excellent condition. The paper seals have been replaced. There is some very faint blue tinting to his vest. Brady appears relaxed and totally comfortable with the novelty of sitting for a photographic portrait. He is quite youthful, likely in his early twenties which, along with the format, would date this image to the mid 1840's. The image matches very closely a lithograph of the youthful Brady published in 1851 (illustration credit: Granger NYC - All Rights Reserved).

    As always when a new image without provenance appears, the identification must be qualified. In this case, our own research and the opinions of experts we have consulted convince us "beyond a reasonable doubt" that this daguerreotype does indeed depict Brady. But in the absence of provenance or other ironclad evidence, this attribution cannot be absolutely guaranteed.

    It would be difficult to overstate the significance of this unpublished portrait. Brady (1822-1896) is the most famous American photographer of the 19th century. He specialized in photographing presidents and statesmen, lending a stature to the newly-invented technology beyond its obvious commercial potential. He or his associates photographed Abraham Lincoln countless times. Lincoln acknowledged the service by telling Brady his "Cooper Union portrait" of the Republican nominee was instrumental in his election to the Presidency in 1860.

    During the Civil War, he sent out mobile units to the battlefield, operated primarily by Alexander Gardner and Timothy O'Sullivan, taking thousands of pictures of the soldiers, battlefields and casualties of the conflict, creating a permanent record of the war and, in the process, establishing a discipline we now know as photo-journalism.

    Brady studied under Samuel F. B. Morse and opened his own studio in New York City in 1844. The daguerreotype offered here may, in fact, be a self-portrait taken at that time. He later opened a studio in Washington, D.C. His location in the nation's capital proved ideal. It was a required stop for statesmen, literary figures, current and former presidents, inventors, members of Congress and the military. His portraits included daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and albumen images, in all sizes and formats (carte-de-visite, cabinet card, stereo view).

    Despite extensive patronage, Brady's various business ventures proved disappointing, notable the volume "The Gallery of Illustrious Americans". Public interest in his Civil War photographs did not meet expectations. Increased competition, diminished interest and demand, as well as failing eyesight, proved too much for the photographic visionary and he was forced to declare bankruptcy and sell his New York studio. The government initially rebuffed his offer to sell his photographic archive to the American people at the end of the Civil War. In 1875, Congressman Benjamin Butler pushed through a bill that authorized the purchase of the Brady archive for $25,000, but demanded a 50% kickback, so the beleaguered photographer netted only $12,500. Tragically, he died penniless in the charity ward of the New York Presbyterian Hospital in 1896 following a streetcar accident. As happens all-too-often, his accomplishments and greatness were not recognized in his lifetime. Today, his name is synonymous with both photo-journalism and the art of photography.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2015
    18th Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 5,972

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