Skip to main content

As a public health precaution, all Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo will temporarily close to the public starting Saturday, March 14 until further notice. Please continue to check back frequently at or for updates. In the meantime, please explore our website, resource materials and online exhibitions. 

The Knight of the Rueful Countenance

The Knight of the Rueful Countenance
Usage Conditions Apply
Alternate Title
Abraham Lincoln
Adalbert John Volck, 14 Apr 1828 - 26 Mar 1912
Copy after
John Roy Robertson, active 1857 - 1869
Abraham Lincoln, 12 Feb 1809 - 15 Apr 1865
Etching on paper
Image: 17 x 11.8 cm (6 11/16 x 4 5/8")
Mat (Verified): 45.7 x 35.6 cm (18 x 14")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Restrictions & Rights
Usage conditions apply
Object number
Exhibition Label
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.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection