American photographer Mathew Brady is best known for his portraits of celebrities and his documentation of the American Civil War. During the war Brady organized a group of photographers to document the Civil War, creating over 10,000 plates. He is now credited with being the father of photojournalism, showing Americans for the first time the harsh reality of war. Across from Brady’s portrait studio on Broadway in New York City stood Phineas T. Barnum’s American Museum which was one of the most popular attractions of its time with 15,000 visitors a day. The colossal museum held a wild collection of educated dogs, ventriloquists, jugglers, fat men, giants, midgets, rope dancers, albinos, cannibals, wax figures, pantomime acts, and whales held in immense tanks.
Many of Barnum’s “freaks” went to Brady’s studio to be photographed. In P.T. Barnum and Ernestine de Faiber, Barnum poses inside a Punch-and-Judy stage. There he admires the beautiful French dancer, Ernestine de Faiber, as she stands frozen in the middle of a pirouette. It was later rumored that Ernestine bore Barnum’s illegitimate child.
The photographs were contact printed in in 1977 from Brady’s negatives held in the Meserve Collection by Time Life Books. The portfolio contains nine toned silver prints from original glass negatives in custom folio. The original edition was 5,000 but only 500 sets were made.
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution