The life mask of Dolley Madison cast in plaster by sculptor John Henri Isaac Browere in 1825.
My Dear Sir:
Mr. Browere waits on you and Mrs. Madison with the expectation of being permitted to take your portrait busts from the life. As I have a sincere regard for him as a gentleman and a scholar, and great confidence in his skill as an artist (he having made two busts of myself), in the art which he is cultivating, I name him to you with much pleasure as being worthy of your encouragement and patronage. I am interested in having Mr. Browere take your likeness, for I have long been desirous to obtain a perfect one of you. From what I have seen and heard of Mr. Browere’s efforts to copy nature, I hope to receive from his hands that desideratum in a faithful facsimile of my esteemed friend ex-President Madison. Be pleased to present my most respectful regards to Mrs. Madison, and believe me always
Your most devoted friend, Jacob Brown.
From this introduction Browere seems to have gained the friendship of Mr. and Mrs. Madison, who took more than an ordinary interest in the artist and his family. They were on terms of familiar intercourse, and an infant, born to Mrs. Browere, July 3, 1826, was, by Mrs. Madison’s permission, named for her. Some years later this child accompanied her parents on an extended visit to Montpelier.
That Madison was satisfied with the result of Browere’s skill is shown by the following:
Per request of Mr. Browere, busts of myself and of my wife, regarded as exact likenesses, have been executed by him in plaister, being casts made from the moulds formed on our persons, of which this certificate is given under my hand at Montpelier, 19, October, 1825.
Mr. and Mrs. Madison each submitted to Browere’s process a second time, which is sufficient evidence that the ordeal was not severe and hazardous. The bust of Madison is very fine in character and expression, but that of Mrs. Madison is of particular interest, as being the only woman’s face handed down to us by Browere. Her great beauty has been heralded by more than one voice and one pen, but not one of the many portraits that we have of her, from that painted by Gilbert Stuart, aged about thirty, to the one drawn by Mr. Eastman Johnson, shortly before her death, sustains the verbal verdict of her admirers; and now the life mask by Browere would seem to settle the question of her beauty in the negative.
“Dolly” Madison was in her fifty and third year when Browere made his mask of her face, and she lived on for a quarter century. She has always been surrounded by an atmosphere of personal interest, not so much for what she was as for what she was supposed to be. She doubtless possessed a charm of manner that made her a most attractive hostess at the White House during her reign of eight years.
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