The Life Mask
The life mask of Dolley Madison was taken from a plaster mold of her head created by John Henri Isaac Browere in 1825. “John Henri Isaac Browere (1790–1834) was an artist in New York in the early 19th century. He created life masks of Thomas Jefferson, Gilbert Stuart, Lafayette, John Quincy Adams, Edwin Forrest, Issac Van Wart, John Paulding, David Williams and other notables.”1
Source: Cheryl Daniel. Special thanks to Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown N.Y.
Dorothea Payne…….Mrs. Madison
“‘JIMMY’ MADISON and his wife ‘Dolly’ were prominent characters in social as well as in public life. He early made a name for himself by his knowledge of constitutional law, and acquired fame by the practical use he made of his knowledge, in the creation of the Constitution of the United States, and in its interpretation in the celebrated letters of the “Federalist.” With the close of Washington’s administration Madison determined to retire to private life, but shortly before this he met the coy North Carolina Quakeress, Dorothea Payne. She was at the time the young widow of John Todd, to whom she had been married not quite a year, and Madison made her his wife.
James Madison was born in 1751 and Dorothea Payne in 1768, but the score and one years’ difference in their ages did not prevent them from enjoying a married life of two score and two years of unclouded happiness. Madison died in 1836, and was survived by Mrs. Madison for thirteen years.
Madison’s temperament, like that of his young bride, was tuned to too high a pitch to be contented with quietness after the excitement incident to his earlier career. Therefore his retirement, like stage farewells, was only temporary, and he became afterward the fourth President of the United States. As we have seen, it was Madison who brought Browere to the notice of Jefferson, and Browere was commended to Madison in the following letter from General Jacob Brown, the land hero of the war of 1812, and later Commander-in-chief of the Army of the United States:
Washington City, Oct. 1st, 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,
Photoshop reconstruction of the life mask of Dolley Madison.
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.
‘Dolley’ 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, in which particular she shares the laurels with the winsome wife of Mr. Cleveland.”2
Based upon their life masks, Dolley and James Madison standing in the drawing room at their Montpelier home in Orange County, Virginia.
Below are images showing the reconstructed life mask of Dolley at age 53 with known photographs of her at age 80 and paintings of her later in life.
Life mask, photographs and painted portraits of Dolley Madison.
Sources & References:
1John Henri Isaac Browere. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 May 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henri_Isaac_Browere
2Charles Henry Hart. “The Project Gutenberg EBook of Browere’s Life Masks of Great Americans” Doubleday & McClure Co., 1899 https://www.gutenberg.org/files/51890/51890-h/51890-h.htm (Public Domain)