This Painting Allegedly Made Mary Lincoln Faint

Life-size painting is in National Portrait Galley after many decades of obscurity
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 10, 2023 1:10 PM CST
This Painting Allegedly Made Mary Lincoln Faint
A detail of a life-size painting of President Abraham Lincoln by artist WFK Travers is seen during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

A painting of Abraham Lincoln so lifelike it was said to have made Mary Lincoln faint when she first set eyes on it at an exhibition in 1876 is now on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. The 9-foot painting shows Lincoln at his full 6-foot-4 height, and those who knew him said it was the most realistic image of him they had ever seen, the Washington Post reports. While plenty of black-and-white photos of Lincoln exist, he sits "stiffly and somberly" in them and the color painting of a relaxed Lincoln "offers viewers perhaps the best opportunity today to see Lincoln as he really was," the Post notes.

Lincoln sat for the portrait in 1864. Artist WFK Travers completed it the following year, soon after the president was assassinated. It "presents a real likeness of the man, with his rugged features and irregularities of personal appearance, true to life," Ward Lamon, a close friend of Lincoln's, wrote in 1888. Travers sold the painting to an American diplomat and it hung in the Capitol for years. It was bought by the Rockefeller family in the 1930s and ended up in a municipal building in Madison, New Jersey, for almost a century. It was "hiding in plain sight where it was seen by very few Americans outside the townspeople who filed past it on their way to pay parking tickets and water bills," Ted Widmer wrote in the Post last year.

The Hartley Dodge Foundation—named after Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge's deceased son —has loaned the painting to the National Portrait Gallery for five years. The Smithsonian says it will be in America’s Presidents exhibition, reunited with Gilbert Stuart’s Lansdowne portrait of George Washington "roughly 147 years after the two paintings were first displayed together at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia." That was the year when, according to lore, Mary Lincoln was so "overcome by its lifelike appearance that she fainted and was carried out of the hall." (More Abraham Lincoln stories.)

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