Sunday, June 02, 2013

What Lincoln looked like in 1856

I hadn’t planned on making a sequence of posts about Abraham Lincoln, but I’ve just read another interesting article about him and wanted to share the information.

The March, 1990 issue of American Heritage, a special Civil War issue, featured a story about a hitherto “unknown” portrait of Lincoln. It was unknown in the sense that it wasn’t part of the overall history of Lincoln portraits, but known to the people who had seen it hanging over the mantle of a family with whom it had been since it was painted in 1856. The portrait, by artist Philip O. Jenkins, was done when Lincoln was a lawyer. In 1856 Lincoln was traveling, trying cases in Illinois, and apparently at some point the artist asked him to sit and have his likeness painted.

The article’s authors, James L. Swanson and Lloyd Ostendorf, who “found” the picture, made an additional discovery: a second portrait painted by the same artist was also found in another home. It was painted in 1866 and was based on the earlier painting.

The second portrait showed Lincoln with a beard, and was done after he was assassinated. There’s a reason for that picture, because by then Lincoln was iconic. The mystery lay in why Jenkins asked Lincoln, in 1856 then still four years from being elected President — and not on the radar for future greatness — to sit. A case could be made that Lincoln was a striking-looking individual, and his unusual looks may have appealed to the artist. As you can see in this scan from the magazine, Lincoln is shown in his asymmetrical glory. Lincoln’s eyes and mouth were crooked, his cheeks were deeply lined and he had protruding ears. He was no one’s idea of a handsome man. Or was he? The artist caught the intelligence in his eyes. His face, along with his rangy 6’4” height, made him a very imposing figure, easy to recognize and hard to ignore. Sometimes that trumps handsome.

Copyright © 1990, 2013 American Heritage

1 comment:

Kirk said...

He's not as gaunt as in some pictures I've seen of him.