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“Antebellum Portraits by Mathew Brady” Opens June 16 at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

Exhibition Features Photography From Brady’s Early Career

May 8, 2017

“Antebellum Portraits by Mathew Brady” opens June 16 and continues through June 3, 2018. It traces the trajectory of Mathew Brady’s early career through daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and salted paper prints in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection. The museum’s Daguerreian Gallery is the only permanent exhibition space in Washington dedicated to showcasing examples of photographic portraiture from the dawn of photography.

“We chose to focus on Mathew Brady’s pre-Civil War portraiture because it was during the period from 1844 to1860 that Brady built his reputation as one the nation’s most successful camera artists,” said Ann Shumard, exhibition curator and senior curator of photographs.

This exhibition showcases the Portrait Gallery’s many fine examples of Brady’s pre-Civil War portraiture. Among the highlights is an ambrotype of western explorer and civil engineer Frederick West Lander—the first portrait to be purchased with funds from the photography-acquisitions endowment established by the Joseph L. and Emily K. Gidwitz Memorial Foundation. Also of interest is the photograph of presidential hopeful Abraham Lincoln—a rare, large-format, salted paper print from 1860, purchased with the support of the Alan and Lois Fern Acquisition Fund.

Brady’s early years as a photographer coincided with rapid technological innovations in the field. More than a decade before his well-known depictions of the Civil War, Brady became an internationally acclaimed portrait photographer, opening his first daguerreotype studio in New York City in 1844. Brady’s studio remained in the vanguard of photographic innovation, adopting ambrotypes as a new medium in the mid-1850s and later producing handsome, salted paper print portraits from glass negatives. This Daguerreian Gallery exhibition will also feature historic engravings and several advertising broadsides Brady used to market his portrait enterprise.

National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story.

The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at Eighth and F streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Website: npg.si.edu. Connect with the museum at Facebook; Instagram; blog; Twitter and YouTube.

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