This previously unrecorded daguerreotype of Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794 – 1858) was made in New York City, in the months following Commodore Perry’s triumphant return from Japan in January of 1855. The seminal achievement of his long naval career, Perry’s shrewd and persistent negotiations with Japan opened that isolated nation to the West for the first time in its history.
The present portrait can be dated to 1855–56, based on the date of Perry’s return to the United States and the years the Becker & Piard studio operated at 264 Broadway. A variant, more conventional, portrait from this same sitting, previously unattributed, exists in three identical half-plates, one in the National Portrait Gallery, one in the New-York Historical Society, and one sold at Swann Galleries, New York, in 1988 (Sale 1468, Lot 186). In addition, there is a half-plate profile study of Perry in the U. S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, also made by Beckers & Piard, that was the model for a commemorative medal struck in Perry’s honor in 1856; and a half-plate seated portrait of Perry in his full uniform and regalia, also owned by the New-York Historical Society.
The portrait offered here is perhaps the most candid of all of the extant daguerreotypes of Perry and reveals a more animate and human sitter. His great diplomatic mission and years at sea behind him, he died in 1858, two years after this daguerreotype was made, at the age of 64.
This portrait can be dated to 1855 or 1856 based upon Perry’s arrival in New York, from Japan, in 1855, and by the address of the daguerreotypists stamped on the portrait’s mat. Alexander Beckers and Victor Piard were active at 264 Broadway, the address on the mat, from 1853 to 1856. At some point in 1856, the studio moved across the street to 261 Broadway. This portrait would, therefore, have to have been made in 1855 or 1856.