President George Washington


George Washington (1732‒99) was the first president of the United States, a founding father and national hero revered by both North and South during the American Civil War. He had limited formal education, but he learned surveying and served in the French and Indian War with the Virginia militia under General Edward Braddock of the British army. He rose to the rank of colonel, and was the logical choice to command the Continental Army in the American War of Independence. Washington wished to return to private life after the war, but was drafted to chair the convention that drew up the United States Constitution. He then served two terms as president and established a powerful precedent by retiring in 1787, when he returned to his estate at Mount Vernon. Washington died before the invention of photography, but several portraits of him were painted during his lifetime. The image is from an album of mostly Civil War-era portraits by the famous American photographer Matthew Brady (circa 1823‒96) that belonged to Emperor Pedro II of Brazil (1825‒91), a collector of photography as well as a photographer himself. The album was a gift to the emperor from Edward Anthony (1818‒88), another early American photographer who, in partnership with his brother, owned a company that in the 1850s became the leading seller of photographic supplies in the United States. Dom Pedro may have acquired the album during a trip to the United States in 1876 when he, along with President Ulysses S. Grant, opened the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Brady was born in upstate New York, the son of immigrants from Ireland. Best known for his photographs documenting the battles of the American Civil War, he began his career in 1844 when he opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Streets in New York City. Over the course of the next several decades, Brady produced portraits of leading American public figures, many of which were published as engravings in magazines and newspapers. In 1858 he opened a branch in Washington, DC. The album, which also contains a small number of non-photographic prints, is part of the Thereza Christina Maria Collection at the National Library of Brazil. The collection is composed of 21,742 photos assembled by Emperor Pedro II throughout his life and donated by him to the national library. The collection covers a wide variety of subjects. It documents the achievements of Brazil and Brazilians in the 19th century and also includes many photographs of Europe, Africa, and North America.

Last updated: March 22, 2016