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Brady Imperial salt print of Confederate General Henry A. Wise

(WISE, HENRY.) Mathew Brady Studio. Henry A. Wise

New York and Washington: Brady Studio, c. late 1850s

Salted paper print (12 x 9 ½ in.), original printed mount captioned “Hon. Henry A. Wise” and signed in print “Photograph by Brady New York and Washington.” Mount worn and creased. The print is in very good condition.

This is a dramatic full-length standing salt print portrait of Gov. Henry A. Wise by Mathew Brady.

Wise served for years in Congress as a Jackson Democrat and later was governor of Virginia in 1856-60. One of his last official acts was to sign John Brown’s death warrant. An ardent secessionist, Wise planned the seizure of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry to provoke secession, but the events at Fort Sumter preempted that action.

Wise was commissioned a brigadier general in the Confederate Army, though he had no military training. He served for the duration of the war, ultimately surrendering with Lee at Appomattox. He was “one of the most notable ‘political generals’ on either side” (ANB).

“Early on, Brady set himself the task of photographing the nation’s leading figures: presidents and military men, business leaders and stars of the stage, writers and artists. Each photograph of a man or woman of mark, displayed in the studio’s reception room, attracted new clients and bore witness to the skill, art, and social standing of ‘Brady of Broadway’ as much as it did to the taste and station of the sitter” (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

This portrait of Wise is evidently one of the “published” Imperial portraits issued by Brady. “These ‘published’ Imperial prints were announced in the New York Times on August 11, 1858: ‘Brady has just commenced the publication of a series of imperial photographs. The first of the series is an excellent portrait of John J. Crittenden, of Kentucky’ … At 12 x 9 5/8 inches, they were smaller than Brady’s sumptuous Imperial photographs, and issued on paper mounts engraved with the Brady studio location and, sometimes, with the name of the figure pictured. In presentation and style, they resemble mezzotint portraits of earlier centuries. A reduced step from the custom Imperial portrait, though still a photographic process, this new ‘imperial’ format could be mass-produced by the studio and sold commercially to anyone who might like to own a portrait of a famous American statesman” (New York Historical Society).

This is an impressive standing salt print Imperial portrait of a leading figure of the Confederacy.