Museum News

Mathew Brady Photograph of Poe’s Mother-in-Law Discovered

Mathew Brady was perhaps the leading American photographer of the nineteenth century. Among the prominent figures who sat for his studio are eighteen United States Presidents including Abraham Lincoln. It has long been known that the Mathew Brady Studio sold copies of a “Brady Photo” of Poe in the early 1860s, but now a previously unpublished Brady photo of Poe’s mother-in-law Maria Clemm has been found and will soon be on public display for the first time.

From September 25 until November 30, 2014, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia will exhibit a newly discovered photograph of Edgar Allan Poe’s mother-in-law from the studio of famed nineteenth century photographer Mathew Brady (1822-1896), best known for his iconic photographs of Abraham Lincoln and his documentation of Civil War battlefields. This is only the third image of Poe’s aunt/mother-in-law Maria Poe Clemm to come to light. Although Edgar Allan Poe’s face is well-known through photographs and paintings made during his lifetime, there are very few surviving images of the two people closest to him—his wife and mother-in-law. Maria Clemm helped support Poe by helping sell his poems and by taking on sewing work for extra money. Poe paid tribute to her in his poem “To My Mother.” After Poe’s death, Clemm depended upon the charity of Poe’s many admirers. Charles Dickens is among those who contributed to her care.

Newly Discovered Image

Stephen Montgomery, the owner of the photograph, an albumen print carte de visite, found the previously unpublished image in an album of nineteenth century photographs and contacted the Poe Museum to help him verify the discovery. The logo of the Mathew Brady studio is printed on the back of the photo with the words “Maria Clemm/ Edgar Allen [sic] Poe Aunt” written in pencil above it. Although the image was previously unknown to scholars, it bears a remarkable resemblance to the two other known photographs of Maria Clemm, one of which is in the collection of the Poe Museum. The newly identified image will be displayed alongside the Poe Museum’s fully authenticated photograph for comparison.

Authentic Images of Maria Clemm and the Newly Discovered Image

Face of 1868 Photo Superimposed Over Face of Montgomery Photo

For this exhibition, Montgomery has also loaned the Poe Museum two other photographs—Matthew Brady’s photograph of Poe (a retouched version of an 1848 photograph taken by another photographer sold from Brady’s studio in the early 1860s) and an albumen print photograph of the daguerreotype taken of Poe in Richmond a few weeks before his death.

Brady Photo of Poe


  1. Although the resemblance is remarkable, in my amateur opinion, the new photo is not of Maria Clemm. I tentatively believe this primarily because the woman in the new photo appears considerably younger than the one created in Lowell, Mass., probably not long after Poe’s death. This would mean that the new photo had to have been taken while Poe was alive. And this would necessarily imply that Brady’s studio was more interested in photographing Mrs. Clemm than they were in photographing Poe, since they never did – which makes no sense. Also, the woman in the new photo is (to my eye) a much more “attractive” individual (and not just due to relative youth) compared to the somewhat “homely” Mrs. Clemm. (I mean no disrespect.) And the younger woman appears not to be “impoverished” (like Mrs. Clemm was) at all, judging from the apparent quality of her attire, her jewelry, her veil and lovely, curly hairstyle. But, of course, I could be wrong. I look forward to the results of expert analysis. –Dan Currie, Boston

    Comment by Dan Currie — August 26, 2014 @ 9:12 pm
  2. Apparently there remains much about the Master of Mystery, yet to be discovered.

    Comment by Cranston Erby — August 27, 2014 @ 12:44 am
  3. Thanks for commenting, Dan. Judging the age of the sitter from these images can be tricky, but the descent of the brow and the signs of aging in the malar region seem to indicate that the new photograph was taken slightly later in the aging process than the 1849 daguerreotype. The hairstyle would seem to indicate that it was taken before the Civil War. By superimposing the face of the Brady photo of a woman supposed to be Maria Clemm over the face of Maria Clemm from 1868 (known from two copies, one of which is in the Poe Museum), we were able to determine the proportions, shapes, and spacing of the eyes, nose, mouth, lips, and forehead match. This is still not conclusive evidence of the photo’s authenticity, and the identification of the piece might continue to be in doubt until more is known about the provenance. The owner of the piece found it in album of unidentified people, and he knows nothing more of the provenance at this time.

    There is reason to believe that the albumen print carte de visite from the Brady studio is a photograph of an earlier daguerreotype or ambrotype (just as the Brady photo of Poe is a copy of an earlier image). If this is the case, the original photograph (or another Brady copy of it) might still be in existence. Maybe finding one of these with a good provenance will provide just the evidence needed to positively confirm the identification.

    Comment by chris — September 4, 2014 @ 3:50 pm
  4. A fabulous picture no matter what. Personally I believe it is the lady in question though being new to the family side of mr Poe I could not say for sure. The museum is on my list to visit, as an English Poe fan can I say a big thank you for what you do.

    Comment by Lisa smith — September 21, 2014 @ 9:34 pm
  5. There is always controversy whenever a new dag comes into view….some people think it resembles other portraits or dags–and others don’t. There is also a great deal of jealousy over who makes these discoveries, as well as an aversion to admitting new evidence into Poe biography. I have still another “new” dag of Maria Clemm, with Poe family provenance, in my possession. There is no doubt that the woman in this daguerreotype is not Marie Poe Clemm. She is simply prettier, slimmer, and far better groomed than we’ve seen her before–and this startles us! Where is Muddy’s “beggar’s basket?” This is most certainly a lovely portrait of Poe’s aunt!

    Comment by Cynthia Cirile — October 27, 2014 @ 9:17 pm
  6. I’ve been a Poe fan for 40 years and have read a great deal of biographical information about the man and 90% of his work. For those who have never read it, Edgan Allan Poe: A Critical Biography from the 1940’s is the most exhaustive work ever done on Poe and I highly recommend it. I would like to see more effort expended in the effort to uncover the circumstances of Poe’s passing. A trunk containing nearly all of his worldly goods disappeared from the Inn where he was staying after he was found in a tavern in 1849 nearly incoherent and dressed in someone else’s clothes. The theory goes that he had been kidnapped, beaten, forced to vote for a gang’s political candidate several times then left for dead outside the Tavern. Finding out what happened to the trunk also and it’s contents are equally important.

    Comment by Brian Crawford — December 30, 2014 @ 6:33 pm
  7. Here is a good article about the fate of Poe’s trunk and its contents:

    Comment by chris — December 31, 2014 @ 5:27 pm

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