[George Washington Parke Custis, half-length portrait, three-quarters to the left, wearing white waistcoat]
Builder and original owner of Arlington House, later the Lee Mansion, Arlington (Va.); author, historian, artist (painter).
The daguerreotype is a photographic process invented by the Parisian inventor and entrepreneur Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851) who was the first person to publicly announce a successful method of capturing images. His invention was an immediate hit, and France was soon gripped by ‘daguerreotypomania’. Daguerre released his formula and anyone was free to use it without paying a license fee – except in Britain, where he had secured a patent. Daguerreotypes required a subject to remain still for several minutes to ensure that the image would not blur.
In 1844, Mathew Brady opened a photography studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York. By 1845, he began to exhibit his portraits of famous Americans, including the likes of Senator Daniel Webster and poet Edgar Allan Poe. In 1849, he opened a studio at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Brady's early images were daguerreotypes, and he won many awards for his work. In 1850, Brady produced The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a portrait collection of prominent contemporary figures. The album, which featured noteworthy images including the elderly Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, was not financially rewarding but invited increased attention to Brady's work. When the Civil War started, he used a mobile studio and darkroom enabled vivid battlefield photographs. Thousands of war scenes were captured, as well as portraits of generals and politicians on both sides of the conflict, though most of these were taken by his assistants, rather than by Brady himself. After the war, these pictures went out of fashion, and the government did not purchase the master-copies as he had anticipated. Brady's fortunes declined sharply, and he died in debt.