Print of a mid-19th century photo gallery with visitors looking at Mathew Brady's photographs

Brady's New Daguerreotype Saloon, New York | Unidentified Artist | Jun 11, 1853 (date of publication) | Wood engraving on paper | National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Antebellum Portraits by Mathew Brady

June 16, 2017 - June 3, 2018
First floor

Mathew Brady may be best known today for his Civil War–era photographs, but he established his reputation as an internationally acclaimed portrait photographer more than a decade before the war. Brady opened his first daguerreotype portrait studio in New York City in 1844, just five years after the introduction of the first commercially practical form of photography. By 1851, he was among the most successful camera artists in the United States, and claimed top honors for his daguerreotypes at the Crystal Palace exhibition in London.

When a new photographic medium—the ambrotype—began to eclipse the daguerreotype in the mid-1850s, Brady adapted, creating some of the most beautiful ambrotype portraits ever produced. As the decade drew to a close, Brady’s studio remained in the vanguard of photographic innovation, producing handsome, salted-paper print portraits from glass negatives.

This Daguerreian Gallery exhibition will trace the trajectory of Brady’s early career through portrait daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and salted-paper prints in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection. Contemporary engravings, as well as several advertising broadsides Brady used to market his portrait enterprise, will also be included.

Ann Shumard, the Portrait Gallery’s senior curator of photographs, is the curator of this exhibition.

  • Photograph of a man (Mathew Brady) and two women

    Mathew Brady, Juliet Brady and Ellen Brady Haggerty | c. 1851,  quarter-plate daguerreotype

  • Photograph of an older woman (Dolley Madison) and a younger woman

    Dolley Madison and Anna Payne | c. 1848, quarter-plate daguerreotype | National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Dortha Louise Dobson Adem Rogus, direct descendant of Dolley Madison

  • Daguerreotype of a man

    Charles Loring Elliott | c. 1850, half-plate daguerreotype

  • Daguerreotype of a man (Thomas Cole)

    Thomas Cole | c. 1845, half-plate daguerreotype on silver-coated copper plate | National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Edith Cole Silberstein

  • Ambrotype of a man (Frederick Kensett)

    John Frederick Kensett | c. 1856, whole-plate ambrotype

  • John Pelham | 1858, half-plate ambrotype