Abraham Lincoln, 1865

Alexander Gardner
Albumen Silver Print

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

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“A feast and fascination” to the eye


This carte-de-visite photograph of Lincoln was produced after his last sitting for Alexander Gardner and was intended, as the inscription indicates, for an audience avid for pictures of Lincoln as he began his second term.


Despite the widespread circulation of Lincoln images, a close observer of the president, the poet Walt Whitman, decreed that none was a satisfactory likeness and that the mechanical process was unable to “depict as a wild perfume or fruit-taste, or a passionate tone of the living voice—and such was Lincoln’s face, the peculiar color, the lines of it, the eyes, mouth, expression.”

Lincoln, Whitman proclaimed would be “to the eye of a great artist . . . a feast and fascination,” but lamented that all “the current portraits are all failures—most of them caricatures.”


Whitman,  the romantic poet, wanted more than art could deliver. The American public wanted a realistic image through which they could conjure a biography based on their memories of history and events.

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