Mathew B. Brady (studio of) President Lincoln c. 1862

  • Not on view

One of the earliest American photographers and the owner of a successful photography studio, Mathew B. Brady photographed celebrities, presidents, and, most famously, scenes of his country’s Civil War. From 1860 to 1864, his studio made more than 30 portraits of President Abraham Lincoln. Among them is this thoughtful and introspective image, made when the president had been in office for two years, and one year into the Civil War. President Lincoln understood the power of these portraits and used photography to his advantage, acknowledging, “Brady and The Cooper Union speech made me president of the United States.”

Many of Brady’s photographs of President Lincoln were reproduced on buttons and posters and, in the case of this image, as cartes de visites. These pocket-sized photographs served as visual calling cards and were an inexpensive and popular way of distributing portraits and self-portraits, which people often collected in albums. Those picturing President Lincoln—in particular a portrait taken on February 27, 1860, after the speech at The Cooper Union, in New York City, that launched his presidential campaign—sold widely. Cartes de visites became a valuable political tool. For the first time in history, they enabled a broad segment of the American public to actually see their presidential candidates (an ability taken for granted today).

Albumen silver print
3 5/16 × 2 1/16" (8.5 × 5.3 cm)
Object number

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