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First Mathew Brady portrait of Walt Whitman: "a sort of Moses in the burning bush look"

(WHITMAN, WALT.) Brady, Mathew. (English) Bust portrait of Walt Whitman

New York: Brady, c. 1862

Albumen print (2 ¼ x 3 ¾ in.). Carte de visite mount with gold lithograph double-rule border, imprint rubbed out on recto. Brady imprint on verso. Very good condition.

This is the first Mathew Brady portrait of Walt Whitman. The poet sat for Brady Studio portraits in New York on a number of occasions. Whitman knew Brady when both men were beginning their careers. In 1846, after visiting Brady’s daguerreotype gallery in New York, Whitman called the photographer “a capital artist” whose “pictures possess a peculiar life-likeness.” Late in his life Whitman recalled of Brady, “We had many a talk together: the point was, how much better it would often be, rather than having a lot of contradictory records by witnesses or historians . . . if we could have three or four or half a dozen portraits—very accurate—of the men: that would be history—the best history—a history from which there could be no appeal.”

Whitman described this Brady portrait as having “a sort of Moses in the burning bush look” and observed, “I always rather favored it.” In 1888 he referred to this photograph, declaring that “Somebody used to say I sometimes wore the face of a man who was sorry for the world. Is this my sorry face? I am not sorry—I am glad—for the world.”

This portrait represents the coming together of two men who helped shape the course of nineteenth-century American history. “Walt Whitman and Mathew Brady were close contemporaries. Both began their careers in New York in the years before the Civil War, and came to Washington during wartime. Both were acknowledged pioneers who used their art to express the distinctive virtues of the American nation” (National Portrait Gallery).