News | June 3, 2024

Historic Display of Photographic Portraits of US Presidents Marks Presidential Election

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Abraham Lincoln by George Clark, ambrotype campaign pin, 1860. 

To mark the 2024 presidential election, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery is presenting Picturing the Presidents: Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes from the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection, an exhibition featuring historic photographic portraits of 11 men who held the nation’s highest office. 

Curated by Senior Curator of Photographs Ann Shumard, the exhibition runs through June 8, 2025.

Exhibition highlights include the 1843 daguerreotype of John Quincy Adams, the earliest surviving photograph of a U.S. President. Also of note is an ambrotype pin created to promote Abraham Lincoln’s candidacy for President in 1860. This rare example of campaign ephemera reproduces Mathew Brady’s first photograph of Lincoln, an image credited with contributing to Lincoln’s victory at the polls.

“The vintage daguerreotypes and ambrotypes in this exhibition are among the treasures of the Portrait Gallery’s collection,” Shumard said. “They offer visitors a unique opportunity to view some of the earliest photographic likenesses of our nation’s Presidents.”

Picturing the Presidents also presents images of two Presidents whose terms in office predated photography’s introduction in 1839. George Washington is pictured in a daguerreotype of Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 painting, while an ambrotype of Andrew Jackson reproduces a painted miniature of the nation’s seventh President. The exhibition includes daguerreotypes of Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Chester Arthur. There is also a modern daguerreotype documenting the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama.

As one-of-a-kind objects, daguerreotypes and ambrotypes enjoyed only limited circulation. However, they inspired a host of popular prints that reached many American households. Three such prints picturing John Quincy Adams, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan are included in Picturing the Presidents.