Frederick Douglass

Samuel J. Miller (American, 1822–1888)1847/52

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago
Chicago, United States

In 1839 Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre announced the perfection of the daguerreotype, a photographic process that employed a silver-coated copperplate sensitive to light. This new artistic process was celebrated for its remarkably sharp detail and praised as a “democratic art” that brought portraiture into reach for the masses. Within a few years, thousands of daguerrean portrait studios had sprung up all over the United States, among them the one that Samuel J. Miller owned in Akron, Ohio. Although most of the likenesses made in commercial studios were formulaic and not very revealing of the subject’s character, this portrait of Frederick Douglass—an escaped slave who had become a lauded speaker, writer, and Abolitionist agitator— is a striking exception. Northeastern Ohio was a center of abolitionism prior to the Civil War, and Douglass knew that this picture, one of an astonishing number that he commissioned or posed for, would be seen by ardent supporters of his campaign to end slavery. Douglass was an intelligent manager of his public image and likely guided Miller in projecting his intensity and sheer force of character. As a result, this portrait demonstrates that Douglass truly appeared “majestic in his wrath,” as the nineteenth-century feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton observed.


  • Title: Frederick Douglass
  • Creator: Samuel J. Miller (American, 1822–1888)
  • Creator Lifespan: 1822 - 1888
  • Creator Nationality: American
  • Creator Gender: male
  • Date Created: 1847/52
  • Physical Dimensions: 14 × 10.6 cm (5 1/2 × 4 1/8 in., plate); 12.1 × 8.8 cm (4 3/4 × 3 1/2 in., mat opening); 15.2 × 12 × 1.4 cm (6 × 4 3/4 × 1/2 in., plate in closed case); 15.2 × 24 × 2 cm (6 × 9 1/2 × 3/4 in., plate in open case)
  • Type: Photograph
  • External Link: The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Media: Daguerreotype
  • Credit Line: The Art Institute of Chicago, Major Acquisitions Centennial Endowment, 1996.433
  • Artist: Samuel J. Miller (American, 1822–1888)

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