Philip Haas, ‘John Quincy Adams’, 1843, Sotheby's

In a mid-to-late 19th century ebonized wood wall frame, signed 'J. Q. Adams' and inscribed 'Hon Horace Everett / Windsor / Vermont' by Adams in ink on address leaf, an Everett family crest bookplate, inscribed 'Presented by J. Q. A. to his Kinsman H. E. 1843' and annotated in an unidentified hand in ink, and with other labels and inscriptions on the reverse of the frame.

Half-plate

From the Catalogue:
This early commanding daguerreotype of President, Secretary of State, Senator, Congressman, and diplomat John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) is a landmark in both photographic and American history. The son of John Adams, the second President of the United States, and Abigail Adams, John Quincy Adams’s impact upon his country’s history is hard to overstate and has been widely explored in numerous biographies, as well as the Steven Spielberg film Amistad. Taken in the spring of 1843 when photography was still in its infancy, and held privately until now for nearly 175 years, this is believed to be one of only a very limited number of surviving daguerreotypes of Adams and the earliest photograph of an American president to appear at auction.

Adams’s steadfast gaze – at once piercing and wary – lends this daguerreotype a humanity and vibrancy unmatched by contemporary traditional portraiture. While he sat throughout his storied life for more than 60 portraits, no other likeness – whether painted in oil, engraved, silhouetted, drawn, or carved in marble – comes as close as this daguerreotype to capturing the essence of ‘Old Man Eloquent.’

When he posed for this portrait, Adams was 76 years old and had completed his term as the sixth President of the United States (1825–29) but was still serving his country as a congressman from Massachusetts. A devoted lifelong diarist, Adams documented in entries for 8 and 16 March 1843 visiting the Washington, D.C. studio of daguerreotypist and lithographer Philip Haas, located on Pennsylvania Avenue between 1st and 2nd streets. In his first entry, Adams described in pure fascination the process of having one’s photograph made: ‘The operation is performed in half a minute; but is yet altogether incomprehensible to me. . . It would seem as easy to stamp a fixed portrait from the reflection of a mirror; but how wonderful would that reflection itself be, if we were not familiarized to it from childhood’ (quoted in Portraits of John Quincy Adams and His Wife, p. 282).

An often-reproduced variant daguerreotype of Adams in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art was long attributed wrongly to the studio of Southworth & Hawes. In 1970, however, the pioneering curator and historian Beaumont Newhall repositioned that daguerreotype as a later copy by Southworth & Hawes made after a lost original by the little-known Philip Haas.

In his day, Haas was an accomplished lithographer and one of the earliest resident daguerreotypists in Washington, D.C. Other notable figures represented in Haas’s lithographs and daguerreotypes include John C. Calhoun, Leverett Saltonstall, Henry Clay, and James Knox Polk. The present daguerreotype or another by Haas from the March 1843 sittings served as the basis for an impressive lithograph made that same year.

The daguerreotype offered here has remarkable provenance, having remained in the same collection for nearly 175 years. It is believed to have been given by Adams to Horace Everett (1779-1851), a colleague who served with Adams in the House of Representatives as a congressman from Vermont from 1829 to 1843. As detailed in Adams’s diary entry for 16 March, Everett was present during the second sitting at Haas’s studio. ‘Found Horace Everett there for the same purpose of being facsimileed [sic]. Haas took him once, and then with his consent took me three times – the second of which he said was very good – for the operation is delicate: subject to many imperceptible accidents and fails at least twice out of three times’ (quoted in Portraits of John Quincy Adams and His Wife, p. 282).

A profusion of fascinating and important information appears on the reverse of the framed daguerreotype. An address leaf is inscribed to Everett and signed by Adams with characteristic flourish. A bookplate with the Everett family crest is annotated ‘Presented by J. Q. A. to his Kinsman H. E. 1843.’

At the time of this writing, the daguerreotype offered here is believed to be the earliest extant photograph of Adams to appear at auction. The recovery of this captivating daguerreotype places it among a short list of the few known daguerreian images of Adams. The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, has in its collection a sixth-plate daguerreotype made in the summer of 1843 by Bishop & Gray Studio (NPG.70.78). The National Museum of American History has a plate by John Plumbe, Jr., from an 1846 sitting (EXH.DG.01). In addition to the aforementioned copy by Southworth & Hawes at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a sixth-plate made by Thomas Martin Easterly in the 1850s, a copy of an undated daguerreotype by an unknown artist, is in the collection of the Missouri History Museum (N17575).
—Courtesy of Sotheby's

The copy plate by Southworth & Hawes in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Andrew Oliver, Portraits of John Quincy Adams and His Wife (Cambridge, 1970), pp. 282-5
The Life Portraits of John Quincy Adams (Washington, D. C.: The National Portrait Gallery, 1970), pl. 41
Richard Rudisill, Mirror Image: The Influence of the Daguerreotype on American Society, (Albuquerque, 1971), pl. 146
William and Estelle Marder with Sally Pierce, 'Philip Haas: Lithographer, Print Publisher, and Daguerreotypist,' The Daguerreian Annual, 1995, fig. 4
Grant B. Romer and Brian Wallis, eds., Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes (New York: George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, 2005), no. 82, p. 13, fig. 12

John Quincy Adams to Horace Everett, 1843
By descent to the present owners

About Philip Haas