National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
This sketch portrays Abraham Lincoln as Don Quixote, the errant knight in Miguel de Cervantes’s popular novel of the same name. Volck included it in his Great American Tragedians, Comedians, Clowns and Rope Dancers in Their Favorite Characters (c. 1864). Satiric symbolism infuses every aspect of this potent yet subtle drawing. The image of the president evokes the contemplative Lincoln photographed in Mathew Brady’s Washington studio in February 1861. Lincoln, holding a quill pen, has made a list of Union defeats; his inkwell is in the shape of an artillery mortar. His foot rests irreverently on a stack of books labeled "Constitution," "Law," and "Habeas Corpus." Beside the legs his chair lie a rail and an ax, allusions to his humble beginnings. Resting against the seatback is a John Brown pike, a symbol associated with abolition and anarchy.