Brady's House of Representatives

brady house.jpg
Mathew Brady (1822-1896), Composite of the Members of The United States House of Representatives, 1860. Salted paper print, Graphic Arts GA 2011- in process. Gift of Wm. B. Becker. [It’s just a shadow at the corners, nothing is wrong with the photograph]

In 1858, Mathew Brady opened a Washington D.C. gallery in Willard’s Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th street. Built eleven years earlier, the hotel was both close to the White House and frequented by both northerners and southerners. Some called it the “Residence of Presidents.” Nathaniel Hawthorne said it was “more justly called the center of Washington and the Union than either the Capitol, the White House, or the State Department.”

It was from this location that Brady and his staff began to photograph the politicians and celebrities of Washington D.C., including the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. When he finished capturing all the heads of the Thirty-Sixth Congress, Brady combined the individual portraits into two enormous panels measuring three by five feet. Then, he rephotographed them and sold large prints at $5.00 each. See the Senate photograph in an earlier post.

As the Southern states began to secede from the Union, Brady’s photographs were copied to wood engravings and published in magazines such as Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Monthly. Sales to Brady, however, were not good and he lost a great deal of money on this project.

For more information, see
Mary Panzer, Mathew Brady and the Image of History (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997), Firestone TR140.B7 P36 1997