City Life Org – National Portrait Gallery presents “Family Ties: Daguerreotype Portraits” and “Powerful Partnerships: Civil War-Era Couples”

George Brinton McClellan and Mary Ellen Marcy McClellan, Mathew Brady Studio, modern albumen silver print from c. 1864 wet collodion negative. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Two exhibitions of early American photography on view in July

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery is announcing two exhibitions of early American photography that will premiere July 1 alongside the reinstallation of “Out of Many: Portraits 1600-1900” in the museum’s collection galleries. “Family Ties: Daguerreotype Portraits” and “Powerful Partnerships: Civil War-Era Couples” will explore mid-19th century portraiture. Both exhibitions are curated by Senior Curator of Photographs Ann M. Shumard and will be presented on the first floor of the museum.

Less than a decade after its introduction in 1839, the daguerreotype – the first commercially viable form of photography – became a hugely popular way to document family relationships. Affordable prices fueled the popularity of the daguerreotype while technical innovations resulting in shorter exposure times made it possible to produce successful images of several designs. This paved the way for the rise of family portraiture. “Family Ties: Daguerreotypes” features more than a dozen portraits from the museum’s permanent collection that reflect the range of family relationships documented by camera during the Daguerrean era. Although they include nuclear family groups, these images also speak of other significant family ties – those shared by a younger brother and sister, a beloved aunt and niece, a young man and his stepfather, a caring uncle and nieces and nephews, and long-married couples.

Long before the term “power couple” found its way into the English lexicon, dynamic duos had marked the history of the United States. “Powerful Partnerships: Civil War-Era Couples” features five couples who shaped the nation during tumultuous times, seen through the lens of Mathew Brady. A leader of the first generation of American photographers, Brady established galleries in New York (1844) and Washington, D.C. (1858), where he and his associates captured the portraits of many of the most influential figures of the 19th century. Featuring modern prints made from original Brady negatives in the Portrait Gallery’s Frederick Hill Meserve Collection, the exhibition introduces visitors to the exploits of Nathaniel P. Banks and Mary Theodosia Palmer Banks, John C. Frémont and Jessie Benton Frémont , Ulysses S. Grant and Julia Dent Grant, George Brinton McClellan and Mary Ellen Marcy McClellan, and Charles Sherwood Stratton and Lavinia Warren Stratton (better known to the public as Mr. and Mrs. Tom Thumb).

“Family Ties: Daguerreotype Portraits” will be viewable until June 11, 2023. “Powerful Partnerships: Civil War-Era Couples” will be viewable until May 18, 2025.

National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted history of the United States through the individuals who have shaped American culture. Spanning the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the story of the nation.

The National Portrait Gallery is located at Eighth and G Streets NW, Washington, DC Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Connect with the museum at npg.si.edu, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Julia P. Cluff