Samuel J. Miller
American, 1822–1888

Frederick Douglass, 1847/52

Daguerreotype
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

Frederick Douglass

View enlargement
Zoom image
Email to a friend
Print this page

In 1839 Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre announced the perfection of the daguerreotype, a photographic process that employed a silver-coated copperplate 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 center of Abolitionism prior to the Civil War, and Douglass knew that this picture, one of an astonishing number that he commissioned or posed for, would be seen by ardent supporters of his campaign to end slavery. Douglass was an intelligent manager of his public image and likely guided Miller in projecting his intensity and sheer force of character. As a result, this portrait demonstrates that Douglass truly appeared “majestic in his wrath,” as the nineteenth-century feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton observed.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2013, p. 283.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

AIC, "Majestic in his Wrath: The Frederick Douglass Daguerreotype," February 8–June 1, 2003.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, "Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and August Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial," September 15, 2013–January 20, 2014.

Publication History

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. 144-61, 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.

Sharp, Robert V., Elizabeth Stepina and Susan E. Weidemeyer. 2009. "The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide." Art Institute of Chicago. p. 269.

Druick, Douglas and Robert V. Sharp. 2013. "The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide." Art Institute of Chicago. p. 283.

Greenough, Sarah and Nancy K. Anderson. 2013. "Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and August Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial." Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington/Yale University Press. p. 27, pl. 5.