"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Abraham Lincoln

This 1917 plaster cast of an 1860 life mask of Abraham Lincoln by Leonard Wells Volk can be seen in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
"During Lincoln's visit to Chicago in the early spring of 1860 to argue a court case, sculptor Leonard Volk asked him to sit for a bust. When Lincoln consented, the artist decided that to keep the sittings to a minimum he would start by doing a life mask. Lincoln found the process of letting wet plaster dry on his face, followed by a skin-stretching removal procedure, 'anything but agreeable.' But he endured the discomfort with good humor, and when he saw the final bust, he was quite pleased, declaring it 'the animal himself.' Volk later used the life mask and bust of 1860 as the basis for other renderings, including a full-length statue of Lincoln for the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield" -- National Portrait Gallery
This lithograph "from a portrait taken from life by Charles A. Barry, Springfield, Illinois, June 1860" showing a beardless Lincoln is contemporary with Volk's life mask.

The caption reads, "Mr. Barry's portrait of "Honest Abe" is a correct and striking likeness. Signed, John Wood, Govr. of the State, S.A. Sutton, Mayor of Springfield, William Butler, State Treasurer and 60 others. I concur in the above John Wentworth, Mayor of Chicago." -- LOC

McClure's Magazine (Vol. X, No. 4, February 1898) gives us these photos of Volk's life mask “taken expressly for McClure's Magazine.”

"Sculptor Leonard Volk took the castings of Lincoln's hands at Lincoln's home in Springfield in late May 1860. Lincoln had just won the Republican nomination for President, and Volk was already thinking of using these castings, in combination with his recently completed Lincoln bust, to fashion a full-length statue. Lincoln's right hand grasps a section of broom handle that he himself obligingly fetched from a shed when the artist expressed a desire to have him hold something. When Lincoln began smoothing the raw edges of the sawn piece, Volk told him that it really was unnecessary, to which Lincoln replied, 'I thought I would like to have it nice.'" -- National Portrait Gallery

Read Edward Stedman's poem about this casting here.

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