Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln
1912 (modeled in 1912, cast after 1912)
Daniel Chester French
27 1/2 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago
Gift of Mrs. Philip D. Sang in memory of Philip D. Sang

This small sculpture was made by the same artist who created the enormous and iconic statue of the nation’s sixteenth president for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Have you ever seen it, or pictures of it? A few years before that project, the artist—Daniel Chester French—was commissioned to create this portrait for a memorial in Lincoln, Nebraska. Lincoln stands with hands clenched together and eyes downcast. French produced an accurate portrayal by working from photographs and a life mask of Lincoln made before the president's death. By studying these sources he was able to capture the characteristic angular features of the man, his somewhat wild hair, his tall and slender build, and his powerful hands. What you are looking at is actually a small version of the much larger bronze sculpture that sits atop a marble base in the Nebraska memorial, where the Gettysburg Address, the speech that Lincoln delivered after the battle of Gettysburg in 1863, is carved into a slab of granite behind the figure. In all versions of this portrait, French felt he captured a quiet, but very powerful subject—“Lincoln bearing the burdens and perplexities and problems of the Great War,” the outcome of which was still far from determined.

1. The memorial in Nebraska combines word and image. Read the Gettysburg address (http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=36) aloud while observing this bronze sculpture. How do you see the words of Lincoln at the devastated battleground portrayed in the president’s pose and expression?

2. Find out where the closest Lincoln monument is to where you live and go to see it. Does it portray a similar image of the president? What aspects of his life or character can be observed?

Further reading:
Foner, Eric. “The Civil War and the Story of American Freedom.” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 27, no. 1 (2001): 8-25.

Percoco, James A. Summers with Lincoln: Looking for the Man In the Monuments. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008.

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