Portraying Lincoln
Micheal R. Fowler

Portraying Lincoln: Man of Many Faces is the first major museum exhibition to demonstrate through the visual arts the multiplicity of responses that the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln have engendered. The art works included depict visions of his life as a young man, champion of civil rights, emancipator, as a tough-minded country lawyer, compassionate man of the people, resolute and resourceful legislator, President of the United States, martyred hero and American icon. As years pass, Lincoln remains in the foreground of an ever-changing cultural landscape. What changes are the interpretation of his accomplishments and the collective memory that continue to inform and renew our understanding of his role in the formation of the American nation. It is through visual art that Lincoln’s place in our nation’s history, and his influence on that history may be understood with an immediacy unique to the medium. Art works chosen for this exhibit range from propagandistic portrayals of emancipator Lincoln in the grand manner of history painting to commercial enterprises of book and magazine illustration to more personal portrayals that reflect an individual artist’s ideas and interpretations of Lincoln’s immense impact on the fabric of American life. The artwork reflects perspectives on Lincoln that are indicative of social or historical mores of the time—from attempts to present an idealized likeness of the new presidential candidate of 1860 to those unfamiliar with his appearance, to jewel-colored paintings of the golden age of illustration during an era of optimism before World War II, to more recent and sometimes conflicting depictions of Lincoln as seen through the lens of contemporary styles and media.