Life-Size Portrait of Lincoln Unveiled at National Portrait Gallery


Image Courtesy of Old Town Trolley Cars

By Angela Hickey

The National Portrait Gallery has unveiled a life-size portrait of the sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, this past weekend as a part of their President’s Day festivities.

The portrait, done by renowned artist Willem Frederik Karel Travers (WFK), came to the portrait gallery on a long-term loan from the Hartley Dodge Foundation. The foundation’s founder, Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, acquired the painting in the 1930s from her family and has allowed the painting to become the newest addition to the museum’s ongoing exhibition, “America’s Presidents,” which began on February 10. 

When the full-sized portrait of Abraham Lincoln debuted at the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia, it stunned viewers, not just because it was 9 feet tall. One longtime Lincoln associate said W.F.K Travers’ 1865 work was the most realistic portrait he had ever seen of the 16th president, who had been killed just 11 years earlier.

The painting traveled around for a long time, gaining an extensive and colorful history. From getting featured in various exhibitions across America to nearly getting burned in a storage fire in Philadelphia (according to historian Stefan Schöberlein) before finally falling into the hands of the Hartley Dodge Foundation.  

It The Hartley Dodge Memorial kept it in Madison, New Jersey, a structure built by Geraldine as a tribute to her only son, who died in a car accident in France in 1930, and kept safe until it was eventually restored in 2021. 

Museum director Kim Sajet gave her comments at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“This painting was an orphan for a long time, which is another reason we’re so happy that it’s in this beautiful home,”  Sajet said . “It couldn’t be better located with its pair, the great Gilbert Stuart Lansdowne portrait of George Washington, which is perhaps the most famous painting in the United States.”

The loan was joined by a new tactile display, offering a more inclusive experience of the Portrait Gallery’s casts of Lincoln’s face and hands. Designed for blind visitors and those with low vision, the new display will present a free-standing structure with 3D-printed copies of one face mask, a set of two hands by Leonard Volk, and one face mask by Clark Mills. Positioned next to the glass-enclosed plaster casts from 1917, based on the originals by Volk in 1860 and Mills in 1865, the presentation will include object information in braille and new audio content featuring guided descriptions and further historical insight.

Nicolas W. Platt, who is president of the Hartley Dodge Foundation, gave his comments about Travers painting. 

“Travers’ painting only adds to the story of the ‘America’s Presidents’ exhibition,” Platt said . “It is rich with symbolism that speaks to Lincoln’s history and accomplishments. Next to the Constitution you see the artist’s nod to the Thirteenth Amendment, which Lincoln supported, and the globe in the background is positioned on Haiti, as Lincoln was the first to recognize it as an independent nation in 1862.”  

The painting will be on display for free at the National Portrait Gallery until December 31, 2027. 

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