Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005
Not on view
Although Civil War photography has been much studied, there are still important photographs about which little is known. This formal portrait of a well-to-do family with two military guards and a black servant is a good example. The slight tension and awkwardness detectable in the group, as well as the presence of the guards, points to the absence of the father. One guard wears a Union Army belt buckle inscribed "U.S.," and the architecture suggests the elegant homes of Alexandria, Virginia, and the Georgetown district of Washington, D.C. But what occasioned this solemn image remains a mystery. In an era dominated by routine albumen silver prints, this exceptionally large salted paper print suggests the work of one of the better New York or Washington studios. A likely photographer is Alexander Gardner, whose portrait work for Mathew Brady was often executed in salted paper prints rivaling those made by the best European photographers. Perhaps the inscription, "No 5," at the bottom center of the print will ultimately help solve the mystery of this haunting photograph.
Inscription: Inscribed in ink, recto and verso: "No. 5."
[Paul Katz, North Bennington, Vermont]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, January 27, 1987