The Lost Daguerreotype Photographs of James and Dolley Madison
Lost to history and now found….. A very rare glimpse of Daguerreotype photographs by Matthew Brady of James Madison with his beloved Dolley Madison.
Matthew Brady, a skilled daguerreotypist, learned the technical aspects of the process from the American pioneers of the medium, Samuel Morse and John Draper. Brady opened his first studio in 1844 and set himself the task of photographing the nation’s leading figures—presidents and military men, business leaders and stars of the stage, writers and artists.
“James Madison was a sickly and slightly built man who stood just 5 feet 4 inches tall and rarely tipped the scales at much more than 100 pounds. His voice was so weak that people often had difficulty hearing his speeches, and he was plagued by recurring bouts of “bilious fever” and what he described as “a constitutional liability to sudden attacks, somewhat resembling epilepsy.” While contemporaries praised Madison’s fierce intelligence, many also made note of his small size and timid demeanor. The wife of a Virginia politician once labeled him ‘the most unsociable creature in existence.'”
However, James was known to have a wicked sense of humor and could tell a dirty joke or two among friends and acquaintances.
“A British diplomat found him a ‘jovial and good-humored companion.’ Another source called James ‘an incessant humorist’ who “set his table guests daily into roars of laughter over his stories and whimsical ways of telling them.”
A little fake history for fun…….Yes, we know there were never any photographs taken of James Madison, and there were no lost daguerreotype photographs of him, as he died in 1836. Daguerreotype photography was just getting started in the early 1840s.
This post is just a continuation of my work with life masks and exploring what I can do with them.
Using James Madison’s life mask along with actual photographs of Dolley Madison, I was able to create, with Photoshop, the closest thing to a photo of this famous presidential couple as we can get.
Here are the unaltered originals.
Sources & References:
Department of Photographs. “The Daguerreian Era and Early American Photography on Paper, 1839–60.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/adag/hd_adag.htm (October 2004)
3David O. Stewart. “The Surprising Raucous Home Life of the Madisons” https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/surprising-raucous-home-life-madisons-180954205/
Evan Andrews. “10 Things You May Not Know About James Madison”. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/adag/hd_adag.htm (March 2016)
Original Life Mask Image Source: James Madison, 1825, John Henri Isaac Browere (1790-1834), Plaster, H: 28.5 x W: 21 x D: 11.5 in. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0244.1940. Photograph by Richard Walker. (Used By Permission)