John Adams & President John Quincy Adams at Peacefield
Today, we are so familiar with candid photographs thanks to the proliferation of inexpensive digital cameras (we carry one everywhere we go in our smart phones), we forget that was not always the case. In early American history the only method of capturing the likeness of our founding fathers was predominately through the portraiture artists’ work. These tend to be formal and stiff. Thus, we have no visual clue what these historical figures looked like in less formal – candid circumstances.
That is until now! Now, through the magic of Adobe Photoshop, we can capture them in candid poses limited only by the imagination. In 1825, John Quincy Adams, the sixth and current President of the United States has traveled to the family home, Peacefield in Massachusetts, to seek advice from his father and second President of the United States, John Adams. In this candid photograph, the two presidents have paused on the front lawn to allow this image to be captured for their admiring constituents.
This image started with a modern photograph of Peacefield in Massachusetts. Using period dressed doll bodies, the two presidents were positioned on the front lawn. The heads were derived from my recently completed forensic/academic study of the Adams’ life masks created by John Henri Isaac Browere (1790—1834) in 1825. The result is a candid moment caught on “film” for eternity!
About Life Masks:
Before photography, life masks were the best way to give us an exact likeness of their subject. Plaster would be applied to the head and sometimes upper torso to create a mold from which a life mask (cast bust) of the person would be created. In addition to being three-dimensional, the faithful transfer process of the life mask creation eliminated the “artistic license” and “sympathetic treatment” employed by many contemporary portrait artists. Thus, using life masks, I am able to complete a forensic/academic study of how the subjects most likely appeared using Adobe Photoshop to add flesh, hair, and other details.
J. I. Browere’s “work achieved a stark realism uncommon in that day. His plaster busts showed the age-lined brow, the pock-marked face; his subjects appeared as they were, not as artists generally portrayed them. His life masks were, and remain, the most authentic likenesses of some historic figures who lived in a day before photography provided more easily obtained but similarly uncompromising portraits.”1
J. I. Browere’s made life masks of many famous early Americans, Marquis De Lafayette, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Dolley Madison and James Madison to name a few.
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