The Lost Daguerreotype Photographs of James and Dolley Madison

James Madison Doelly Madison

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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.

1Matthew 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.

2“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.
3“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.”

James Madison and Dolley Madison
Daguerreotype created using the life mask of 4th U.S. President James Madison. The life mask is the cast of Madison’s head and upper torso by John Henri Browere in 1825.

4“In contrast to Madison’s quiet and retiring personality, his wife Dolley was a social butterfly known for her exuberance, warmth and wit. When Madison began his first term as president in 1809, she embraced the role of first lady and helped define its duties by redecorating the White House and hosting the first ever Inaugural Ball. By serving as the “directress” of an orphanage for young girls, she also started the tradition of first ladies taking on a public outreach project. Dolley proved particularly effective in her job as the White House hostess. Her weekly receptions became a hot ticket among foreign dignitaries, intellectuals and politicians, leading writer Washington Irving to remark on the ‘blazing splendor of Mrs. Madison’s drawing room.'”

Daguerreotype Photograph of James and Dolley Madison
Daguerreotype created using the life mask of 4th U.S. President James Madison. The life mask is the cast of Madison’s head and upper torso by John Henri Browere in 1825.

Ok….Gotcha!

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.

James Madison Life Mask Photoshop Restoration
(Left) 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) (Right) Life Mask Photoshop Reconstruction of James Madison

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.

Photographs of Dolley Madison
(Left) Dolley Dandridge Payne Todd Madison, 20 May 1768 – 12 Jul 1849 Anna Payne, 1819 – 9 Nov 1852 (Right) Dolley Dandridge Payne Todd Madison, 20 May 1768 – 12 Jul 1849
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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/
2,4 Evan Andrews. “10 Things You May Not Know About James Madison”. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/adag/hd_adag.htm (March 2016)

James Madison Period Dress Sources:  Carri Angel Photography, The Dark Angel,

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)

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2 thoughts on “The Lost Daguerreotype Photographs of James and Dolley Madison

  1. It was pretty obvious Jemmy Madison was fake. The head was way too big. BUT PLEASE NOTE. DAGS OF DOLLY ARE all signed EASTMAN JOHNSON ACROSS THE TOP. He was working just as early as Brady and I believe he was way more prolific. He painted her frequently when he had an office/studio in the capitol building in 1847. I see thousands of his works with signatures, that remain unrecognized because his faint shadowy, intended to blend in signature is so hard to see. Once you learn it you see it everywhere. frequently looks like finger painting along a top or bottom edge. Also ID’s people with shadowy letters on their face, hair , knuckles.

    1. Thank you, James, for the constructive criticism. I do believe you are correct. I went back tonight and analyzed Jemmy and reduced his head. The proportions now look better. I also had a 2nd set of eyes view the comparisons, and we both agree on the smaller head.
      Very few people take the time to critique other’s work, but I appreciate it when they do.
      Also, thank you for the information about Eastman Johnson. I did not know this. It appears that many sources credit Brady for the photos of Dolley.

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