Palmer Museum of Art

Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA



History Past, History Present: The Daguerreotype Portrait in America

January 16-May 20, 2001


Featuring daguerreotypes by Mathew Brady and the partnership of Albert Southworth and Josiah Hawes -- among the finest art daguerreotypists in the nineteenth century -- History Past, History Present: The Daguerreotype Portrait in America explores both the aesthetic qualities of daguerreotype portraits and their social and cultural significance in nineteenth-century America.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a rare, signed daguerreotype portrait of Mexican War hero Colonel James Duncan by Mathew Brady. The Mexican War was the first conflict fully documented in prints and photographs. Some of these early illustrations of the war and of American presidents and statesmen, including Presidents James Polk and Zachery Taylor, demonstrate the ways in which, as early as the 1840s, visual documents were used politically to sway public opinion. History Past, History Present examines this historical context for the Duncan portrait -- particularly the fame Colonel Duncan achieved during the war. (left: Mathew Brady (American, c. 1823-1896), Portrait of James Duncan, c. 1848, half-plate daguerreotype, Collection of the Palmer Museum of Art, Penn State, Photo by Penn State Image Resource Center)

Duncan's photographer, Mathew Brady, is best known for the Civil War photographs that he made between 1860 and 1865, however, in the 1840s and 1850s he was the leading portrait photographer in New York City and the most famous American photographer of his time. Demonstrating his status, this exhibition features several Brady photographs and numerous lithographs from his New York City studio. This exhibition is the first to bring together Brady's signed daguerreotype with other examples of daguerreotypes signed directly on the plate by the photographer. (left: Albert Sands Southworth, (American, 1811-1894) and Josiah Johnson Hawes (American, 1808-1901), Portrait of a Seated Woman Holding a Book, c. 1850, Quarter-plated daguerreotype, Collection of Matthew Isenberg, Photo Courtesy of Matthew Isenberg)

History Past, History Present also includes examples of other photographic processes used in the nineteenth century so that visitors can see the differences between a daguerreotype, an ambrotype, a tintype, and a paper photograph. There is a daguerreian studio including a camera, studio furniture, and all the equipment necessary to make a daguerreotype.

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This page was originally published in 2000 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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