The Portraits

One Life: The Mask of Lincoln

In the two-hundredth year since his birth, Abraham Lincoln remains as much a puzzle as he was to his contemporaries. That he came from nothing and was an obscure figure, almost to the moment of his nomination for the presidency, only adds to his mystery. His essential nature remains elusive, despite our best efforts to reveal the "real" Lincoln. Perhaps, though, that very mysteriousness is the key to his character and personality. Lincoln, with a supreme confidence in himself and an almost providential sense of his personal mission, was incredibly adroit in his ability to adapt to circumstances and shape events.

This exhibition concentrates on presidential portraits to show the changing face that Abraham Lincoln presented to the world as he led the fight for the Union. Shaping himself to the uncertainties of the present, mindful of his role as the heir to the Founding Fathers, Lincoln led the nation where it never intended to go: from a political crisis over states' rights to the revolutionary act of abolishing slavery. What is uncanny is how Lincoln moved toward this conclusion in public, before an audience fascinated and yet bewildered by the workings of an extraordinary mind.