Mathew B. Brady

born Lake George, NY 1823-died New York City 1896
Also known as
  • Mathew Brady
  • M. B. Brady
Lake George, New York, United States
New York, New York, United States
Active in
  • Washington, District of Columbia, United States

Mathew Brady was born near Lake George, New York, in 1823. He studied art with William Page and learned how to make dauguerreotypes from Page's friend, Samuel F. B. Morse. Brady opened his first portrait studio in New York City in 1844 where he photographed such notable and distinguished figures as Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, and P. T. Barnum. He was the first photographer to record the Civil War, from 1861 to 1865. He directed a large staff of photographers from his Washington, DC headquarters, which necessitated his skills as a historian, perhaps his greatest contribution to the Civil War. Despite his association with the important individuals of his day, Brady died penniless in New York in 1896.

National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)

Artist Biography

When the Civil War began, Mathew Brady obtained permission for himself and his staff (which at various times included Alexander Gardner, George Bernard, John Reekie, and Timothy O'Sullivan, among others) to travel with the troops. He published all photographs, both by himself and others, under the name Brady & Co. Like most photographers during the war, Brady rarely photographed actual battles. Cumbersome camera equipment and slow exposure times made it difficult to capture action. Instead, they focused on the aftermath of the battle, military portraits, and scenes of camp life. Brady's experience as a studio photographer may have suggested the posed drama of The Sick Soldier [Smithsonian American Art Museum]. His picture of a Northern soldier being aided by another played to the collective trauma of mid-nineteenth century American households, most of whom, like Samuel Wilkeson, had suffered the loss of a relative or friend.

Merry A. Foresta American Photographs: The First Century (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996)