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Artwork of the Week

Artwork of the Week: February 20, 2023

Abraham Lincoln
William Sartain (1843-1924), 'Abraham Lincoln,' 1860,<em> </em>engraving, 16 3/8 x 12 3/8 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased/gift from Mahonri M. Young Estate, 1959.

In honor of President's Day!

This mezzotint engraving by William Sartain depicts Abraham Lincoln as he sat for a photograph in 1864–just a year before his assassination and the end of the civil war. The chiseled lines around Lincoln’s eyes and mouth convey a leader war-weary and exhausted. Yet his wan smile, quirked brow, and strong composure remind us of his stubborn humor and the hope he managed to maintain in the midst of a fractured, violent era.

Sartain based his image of Lincoln on a photograph taken by Mathew Brady, a contemporary photographer. However, the photograph reveals a much more age-worn face than Sartain’s comparatively idealized depiction. This subtle “polishing” of Lincoln’s portrait could indicate a political agenda; in the 1860s portraits of abolitionist leaders became extremely popular tools supporting a Republican or anti-slavery philosophy. Portraits like Sartain’s became so popular around the time of Lincoln’s assassination that the President’s image essentially became an icon, obtaining a ubiquitous “parlor status” in American homes only matched by images of George Washington. Sartain’s invigorated depiction of Lincoln in this engraving thus conveys the era’s idealization of Lincoln as a symbol of American progress.

Student Contributor: Ellie Hinds