Sam Houston, 1851
Meade Brothers, American, active 1842–1863
Image: 8 × 5 3/16 in. (20.3 × 13.2 cm) Frame: 13 5/8 × 11 11/16 in. (34.6 × 29.7 cm)
Museum purchase funded by Vinson & Elkins L.L.P. in honor of the firm's 75th anniversary
Habits of Mind
- UNDERSTAND BIAS Understand assumption and various points of view / empathy
Learning about Sam Houston
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
• Research and write about the life of Sam Houston, the time in which he lived, and his contributions to Texas and to the United States.
• Study the photograph of Sam Houston and describe the man portrayed, noting his clothing, age, pose, and facial expression. Note the age of the photograph.
• What does the photograph reveal about Sam Houston’s personality?
• Houston had this photograph made when he was thinking about running for president. Why would a photograph be important to a presidential candidate in 1851, and today?
Connecting to the Classroom
This daguerreotype of Sam Houston, long thought to be lost, was rediscovered in 1990. When this image was taken in 1851, Sam Houston was seriously considering running for president of the United States. The vertical format of this full-plate daguerreotype and the column within the composition emphasize Houston’s height – six feet, two inches – and thus his stature as a leader. With his arms crossed, he assumes a pose of relaxed confidence. Often flamboyant in dress, here Houston wears sober, dark clothes. Especially notable is the clarity of this image, evident in the details of costume, face, and setting.
Houston came to Texas in 1832 from Tennessee, where he had served as a United States congressman and as governor. Texas was at that time under Mexican rule, and Houston became a leader in the Texas independence movement. As commander-in-chief of the Texas troops at the Battle of San Jacinto, he defeated the Mexican forces and won independence for the new Republic of Texas on April 21, 1836. As both the first and third president of the Republic, Houston worked to bring Texas into the United States, eventually succeeding in 1845. Elected to the governorship of Texas in 1859, Houston refused to sign the order to secede from the Union, and thus forfeited his office in 1861.
The Meade Brothers gained a reputation for carefully constructed compositions and technical proficiency. This photograph demonstrates their ability to present many facets of a sitter. Sam Houston is captured as a dynamic leader, masterful politician, and tenacious man. The brothers also became notable for their manipulation of light and shadow, seen here in the way Houston’s eyes appear veiled, as well as the contrast between the dark of his clothing and the light of the nearby column.
The daguerreotype process was one of the two photographic methods introduced in 1839. The daguerreotype had no negative; each photograph was a one-of-a-kind image. A chemical deposit was laid down on a highly polished silver-on-copper plate, then exposed to light in a camera. The full-plate daguerreotype, 8 ½ x 6 ½ inches, could be used whole or it could be subdivided. Framed and signed whole-plate daguerreotypes such as Samuel Houston are exceedingly rare.
To the nineteenth-century public, the amazingly precise detail achieved in daguerreotypes was nothing short of miraculous. Barely one year after its introduction in France, the daguerreotype was in use in the United States. Portrait studios were soon established throughout the country.
In 1842, the Meade Brothers formed their business in Albany, New York, then opened branches in Buffalo and New York City, where this portrait of Sam Houston was probably taken. The impressive list of sitters in the Meade Brothers’ inventory included Kit Carson; Commodore Perry; Lola Montez, a famous actress; Louis Napoleon, Emperor of France; and L.J.M. Daguerre, inventor of the daguerreotype.
• Research the life of Sam Houston. Discuss his military and political achievements and his contributions to Texas and to U.S. history. What are his lasting contributions to life in Texas today?
• Discuss how Texas has changed since Sam Houston’s day and identify factors that account for the changes.
• As a class, write a biography of Sam Houston, and illustrate it with a scene from Houston’s life.
Resources Available to Order
The Art-To-Go lending library features materials that may easily be integrated across the K–12 curriculum. Resources include DVDs, music CDs, children’s books, study guides, poster sets, and collection-based interpretive materials produced by the KFEC. Educators, community leaders, and docents from throughout Texas are welcome to borrow Art-To-Go resources. To place your order, search the online catalogue and add the selected items to your basket. After you have reviewed your basket, submit the order electronically.
The Learning Through Art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is underwritten by:
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.