Monday, February 18, 2013

Healy’s Lincoln

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln by George Healy
Today is “Presidents’ Day” here in the U.S.

Originally it was a celebration of the birthday of first president George Washington. A later holiday celebrating the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, also in February, was folded in, the day was moved to a Monday in the general vicinity of the dates, made a postal holiday and became most useful as an occasion for car dealers and furniture stores to hold sales.

Though the focus is usually on Washington (see my posts on Gilbert Stuart, and Gilbert Stuart, not just presidents), there is a lot of attention being paid to 17th president Abraham Lincoln lately, much of it coming from acclaim for the recent Spielberg biopic.

Portraits of Lincoln are not as numerous or familiar as those of Washington, except perhaps for his profile on the U.S. penney.

The most notable is the posthumous portrait of Abraham Lincoln (above, top, larger here), by American portrait artist George Healy.

Lincoln sat for Healy and the artist made sketches in preparation for a portrait, but Lincoln was assassinated before the actual portrait could be painted.

Healy took his reference and created a group portrait of Lincoln and the Union generals in a strategy session on the steam boat River Queen just before the end of the Civil War, titled The Peacemakers (above, bottom two), in which Lincoln is presented leaning forward, chin in hand in rapt attention, framed by a rainbow signifying the end of the conflict.

Healy went on to use his sketches and the pose in that painting to create the single portrait shown above, top, now in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Though it was rejected as an official White House portrait of Lincoln by then president Ulysses S. Grant, in favor of a more prosaic standing portrait by William F. Cogswell, Healy’s portrait was purchased by Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, who said of it: “I have never seen a portrait of my father which is to be compared with it in any way.”

One thought on “Healy’s Lincoln

  1. kathryn

    very interesting post!! i love the first portrait of Lincoln…between the halo lighting around his head and his body blending in with the black background, it makes for an intriguing portrait!

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