Paul Frecker
Fine Photographs


Harriet Lane, c. 1860
Mathew Brady of New York

carte de visite portrait of Harriet Lane Johnston (1830-1903), First Lady and mistress of the White House 1857-1861. Unique among First Ladies, Harriet Lane acted as hostess for the only President who never married, James Buchanan, her favourite uncle and her guardian after she was orphaned at the age of eleven.

Lane came from a family of prosperous merchants in the rich farming country of Franklin County, Pennsylvania. After the death of her parents, her uncle supervised her education, completed by two years at the Visitation Convent in Georgetown. By this time, ‘Uncle Buck’ was Secretary of State and he introduced her to fashionable circles. In 1854 she joined him in London, where he was minister to the Court of St James, and Queen Victoria gave ‘dear Miss Lane’ the rank of ambassador's wife.

After the sadness of the Pierce administration, ‘Hal’ Lane charmed social gatherings with her captivating mixture of spontaneity and poise. She filled the White House with gaiety and flowers, and guided its social life with enthusiasm and discretion, winning national popularity. 

The following is an extract from Belle of the Fifties, the memoirs of Mrs Clay of Alabama covering political and social life in Washington and the South 1853-1866:

‘Miss Lane's entrance into life at the American capital, at a trying time, served to keep the surface of society in Washington serene and smiling, though the fires of a volcano raged in the under-political world, and the vibrations of Congressional strife spread to the furthermost ends of the country the knowledge that the Government was tottering. The young Lady of the White House came to her new honours with the prestige of Queen Victoria's favour. In her conquest of statesmen, and, it was added, even in feature, she was said to resemble the Queen in her younger days. Miss Lane was a little above the medium height, and both in colour and physique was of an English rather than an American type […] In figure, Miss Lane was full; her complexion was clear and brilliant. In her cheeks there was always a rich, pretty colour, and her hair, a bright chestnut, had a glow approaching gold upon it. She had a columnar, full neck, upon which her head was set superbly. I thought her not beautiful so much as handsome and healthful and good to look upon. I told her once she was like a poet's ideal of an English dairymaid, who fed upon blush roses and the milk of her charges; but a lifting of the head and a heightening of the pretty colour in her cheeks told me my bucolic simile had not pleased her. […] Through her efforts she convinced people to donate art treasures to the Smithsonian, which eventually led to the creation of the Museum of Fine Arts. She herself had acquired a sizable art collection, largely of European works, which she bequeathed to the government. Accepted after her death in 1903, it inspired an official of the Smithsonian Institution to call her the "First Lady of the National Collection of Fine Arts." In addition, she had dedicated a generous sum to endow a home for invalid children at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. It became an outstanding paediatric facility, and its national reputation is a fitting memorial to the young lady who presided at the White House with such dignity and charm.’

Lane eventually married Baltimore banker Henry Elliott Johnston at the age of 36.

Photographed by Matthew Brady and published by E. Anthony.

Condition: the print presents some small imperfections in the area of the background but is otherwise in very fine condition, with good tonal range. The mount presents a small amount of corner wear and some yellowing verso at its edges but is otherwise in excellent condition.

Dimensions: the dimensions of a standard carte de visite are approximately 4.1" by 2.5" (10.5 cm by 6.3 cm).

price:  £80
code: cat003
Harriet Lane, Harriet Lane Johnston, Hal Lane, James Buchanan, Mathew Brady, Brady