In a new series for the first day of each month, Hyperallergic is exploring some firsts in art, from the earliest known depictions of things to pioneers in the visual fields.
Given that the President-elect’s favorite color, and presumably substance, is gold, the venerable White House could soon undergo its gaudiest redecoration to date. Yet the home of the American president has been a consistent symbol since it was built, maintaining its classically inspired architecture through the War of 1812 fire, massive renovations under Harry S. Truman, and other alterations.
The earliest known photograph of the White House was taken in 1846 and is attributed to a Welsh immigrant named John Plumbe, Jr., who was one of the country’s first prominent professional photographers. You can see his daguerreotype above, with its leafless trees and patch of snow capturing a 19th-century January day. According to the White House Historical Association, the “cast of the shadows indicates that the photograph was taken in early morning light.” (Note: This may not entirely be accurate if, as a commenter pointed out, the shadows from the sun on the left suggest late afternoon.)
In 1846, President James K. Polk was in office, and his White House had notable differences from the one of 2016. Ghosts of DC points out that the older building did not have the current top floor, as well as the balcony that Harry S. Truman added to the second level.
The White House photograph isn’t Plumbe’s only image of the nation’s capital in 1846. That year he systematically journeyed around the city, capturing its official buildings with the new photographic technique. The Library of Congress — which has a collection of Plumbe’s daguerreotypes, including of the United States Capitol, the United States Patent Office, and the General Post Office — notes that the photographer opened his Washington, DC, studio the year before. On January 29, 1846, around the time of the White House picture, the United States Journal reported, “We are glad to learn that this artist is now engaged in taking views of all the public buildings which are executed in a style of elegance, that far surpasses any we have seen.”
Unfortunately, although Plumbe expanded his photography galleries to 13 cities and was a major advocate for the transcontinental railroad, by 1857 he was financially ruined. On May 29 of that year, he slit his own throat with a straight razor.
By the 20th century, Plumbe’s legacy was mostly lost, and it was only by chance, in 1972, that collector Michael Kessler found a series of his daguerreotypes at a San Francisco flea market. Plumbe’s camera was also acquired by the George Eastman Museum. In 1977, Plumbe’s unmarked grave at Linwood Cemetery in Dubuque, Iowa, was finally given a monument by the Dubuque County Historical Society.
They Managed to Mess Up an Art Heist Movie
There must be a lesson in Vasilis Katsoupis’s film Inside about the vacuousness of the art market or the claustrophobia of exhibition spaces — I just don’t care.
Ten Painful Stories of the Dutch Colonial Slave Trade
The Rijksmuseum’s traveling show strives to remind us that we are all, in some way, a part of this chapter of human history, whose legacy continues today.
The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Presents The Feminine in Abstract Painting
Curated by Jennifer Samet and Andrea Belag, this group exhibition in NYC explores the feminine through aesthetics, as opposed to identity or gender.
Textured Histories at Shiprock Santa Fe
The Santa Fe gallery features Indigenous textiles and jewelry from the early 19th century to today.
Renaissance Portrait of “Ugly Duchess” Likely Depicts a Man
A curator at London’s National Gallery believes the subject of painter Quinten Massys’s painting “is most likely a he.”
NYU Steinhardt Opens 2023 MFA Thesis Exhibitions
Taking place at 80WSE Gallery in New York’s Greenwich Village, Part I is on view from late March through April while Part II opens in May.
Hokusai’s “Great Wave” Makes a Splash at Auction
An edition of the iconic woodblock print broke records when it sold for $2.8M this week.
MTV’s The Exhibit Is Back With an Inflatable Dolphin
Episode four, in which artists tackled themes of justice and injustice, was the most lifeless of the reality TV show so far.
Miniature Worlds: Joseph Cornell, Ray Johnson, Yayoi Kusama
Through small-scale works, this exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York examines Cornell’s prominent role in the lives and careers of Johnson and Kusama.
Florida Principal Ousted Over “Pornographic” Michelangelo Sculpture
Parents complained that the famous sculpture was shown to their sixth graders.
Tickets to Sold-Out Vermeer Show Are Going for Hundreds
The online resale market for the Rijksmuseum’s smash exhibition is booming, with tickets selling on eBay for over $2K.
The Wider World and Scrimshaw
On March 28, join the New Bedford Whaling Museum online and in-person for a symposium on global carving traditions from across the Pacific Rim.
Three Looted Antiquities at the Met Repatriated to Turkey
Nine other repatriated works were seized from Met Trustee Shelby White, whose collection was subject to a criminal investigation.
This week, the world’s lightest paint, Pakistan’s feminist movement, World Puppy Day, and were some of Vermeer’s paintings created by his daughter?
…I think a correction is in order. The photo of the White House at the top of this article was taken in late afternoon light. The shot was taken from the south looking north. The sun is on the left which indicates late afternoon….
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