Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln
1916 (Modeled in 1916, cast after 1916)
Daniel Chester French
33 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago
Bequest of Arthur Rubloff Trust

How did Daniel Chester French convey both a sense of movement and of rest in this sculpture? Lincoln sits squarely and comfortably in his large-scale armchair, overcoat unbuttoned. His expression is solemn and his piercing eyes gaze outward. His feet are firmly planted in front of the chair, one slightly in front, almost as if he were about to move forward. His hands extend to the ends of the chair’s arms, one relaxed and open, the other in a clenched fist. The draping fabric behind him is, in fact, an American flag. Can you see the bundles of sticks on the arms of the chair? These are fasces, ancient Roman symbols of authority. French used the flag and fasces as symbols of power. Combining them with Lincoln’s strong but serene posture and expression allowed French to create a quietly confident and determined portrait of the president.

French was commissioned in 1914 to create a large monumental sculpture of President Lincoln for a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. He based his work on photographs and plaster casts made of Lincoln’s face and hands before his death. French created several plaster models of Lincoln before settling on a final design, which was then enlarged to a nineteen-foot marble version for the memorial site. The bronze sculpture you see here is one of a number of smaller copies French made to advertise his craftsmanship as well as make money, as Lincoln memorabilia was quite popular.

1. Compare this and one other portrayal of Lincoln from this website. What various aspects of his political character do you see reflected in the posture, gestures, and facial expressions?

2. Why do you think this particular pose and expression was selected for the most significant monument to the nation’s 16th president?

3. There are two sculptures of Lincoln made by Daniel Chester French in this website. They were both made at least fifty years after the start of the Civil War. Why do you think such important monuments were made so long after the fact? Do you think a memorial to Lincoln made in the years immediately following the war would have looked different? Why or why not?

Further reading:
Percoco, James A. Summers with Lincoln: Looking for the Man In the Monuments. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008.

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