Brady of Broadway

Thomas J. Brady offers a study of a fashionable photographer who became the great visual recorder of the American Civil War.

Mathew B. Brady, the famous and fashionable portrait photographer of New York and Washington, completed his extensive collection of photographs of the American Civil War just over one hundred years ago. Thirty years later, he died in a public ward of a New York charitable hospital, poor and disappointed—the victim of an unimaginative officialdom that had failed to appreciate the value of his photographs.

Brady recognized the advantages of the then relatively new photographic medium for the preservation of a pictorial record of the reality of war. At his own expense, he and his assistants rushed to the battlefields with dark-room wagons and full equipment. From the beginning to the end of this devastating war, from Bull Run (1861) to Five Forks (1865), Brady and his men were in the thick of things, recording the struggle in all its phases.

Born of Irish parents at Warren County, New York, in 1823, his education at the local school was limited. From an early age, however, he had ambitious dreams and he acquired a liking for art and painting.

A chance meeting with the American artist, William Page, when Brady was in his early teens, proved to be fortunate, because Page nurtured the boy’s enthusiasm for art, and gave him some tuition. Page was later instrumental in setting the young man on the career that was to bring him an international reputation.

In 1841 Brady went to New York with Page, who put him in touch with Samuel Morse, the inventor and painter. Brady studied under Morse at the Academy of Design, and to help pay for his studies, he obtained a post as a clerk with a New York firm, A. T. Stewart and Company.

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