Samuel J. Miller
Frederick Douglass, 1847/52
14 x 10.6 cm (5 1/2 x 4 1/8 in., plate); 12.1 x 8.8 cm (4 3/4 x 3 1/2 in., mat opening); 15.2 x 12 x 1.4 cm (6 x 4 3/4 x 1/2 in., plate in closed case); 15.2 x 24 x 2 cm (6 x 9 1/2 x 3/4 in., plate in open case)
Major Acquisitions Centennial Endowment, 1996.433
One of the two forms that announced photography's invention in 1839, the daguerreotype offers a particularly detailed, sharp image because of its smooth silver-coated, light-sensitive plate. Samuel J. Miller was among the first to harness this crispness of forms to the business of portraiture. Based in northwestern Ohio, a center for Abolitionism in the decades prior to the Civil War, Miller had the great fortune to make a portrait of Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who had become a much-lauded speaker, writer, and agitator. This image stands out as one of the collection's finest examples of portraiture's ability to record its subject's intensity and power of character.
— Permanent collection label
In 1839 Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre announced the perfection of the daguerreotype, a photographic process that employed a silver-coated copper plate sensitive to light. This new artistic process was celebrated for its remarkably sharp detail and praised as a “democratic art” that brought portraiture into reach for the masses. Within a few years, thousands of daguerrean portrait studios had sprung up all over the United States, among them the one that Samuel J. Miller owned in Akron, Ohio. Although most of the likenesses made in commercial studios were formulaic and not very revealing of the subject’s character, this portrait of Frederick Douglass—an escaped slave who had become a lauded speaker, writer, and Abolitionist agitator—is a striking exception. Northeastern Ohio was a hotbed of Abolitionism in the decades prior to the Civil War, and Douglass knew that this picture, which was most likely made for friends or even for public display, would be seen by his ardent supporters. He understood the conventions of photography and actively collaborated with Miller, projecting his intensity and sheer force of character. Indeed, this portrait demonstrates that Douglass truly was “majestic in his wrath,” as the nineteenth-century feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton observed.
— Entry, Essential Guide, 2009, p. 269.
AIC, "Majestic in his Wrath: The Frederick Douglass Daguerreotype," February 8–June 1, 2003, (Gallery 2).
Rossen, Susan F. 1999. "Introduction." Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, vol. 24. no. 2. p.142.
Westerbeck, Colin L. 1999. “Frederick Douglass Chooses His Moment.” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, vol. 24, no. 2. pp. 144-161. figs. 1, 10.
Foner, Eric. 2001. “The Civil War and the Story of American Freedom.” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, vol. 27. no. 1. p. 18, pl. 4.
Davis, David Brion. 2006. "Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World." Oxford Unversity Press. n. pag.