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Life-Size Abraham Lincoln Painting Coming to the National Portrait Gallery

by David J. Kent

Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023



Lincoln Life Size! The Smithsonian Institution has announced that a life-size painting of Abraham Lincoln will soon be installed at the National Portrait Gallery. This is not to be missed. And that's just the beginning.


This life-size painting of Lincoln is by artist Willem Frederik Karel [W.F.K.] Travers, one of only three life-size paintings of Lincoln known to exist. It was painted from life in 1865 and is on long-term loan to the National Portrait Gallery from the Hartley Dodge Foundation, whose founder, Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, acquired it from her family in 1930. Including the frame, the painting stands a massive 9 feet tall. It will be on display in the museum's "American Presidents" exhibition beginning on February 10, 2023.


According to the Portrait Gallery's press release:


“It is a pleasure to reunite the Travers painting with Gilbert Stuart’s Lansdowne portrait of George Washington—a highlight of the Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection—roughly 147 years after the two paintings were first displayed together at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “Congress debated purchasing the painting for the Capitol on numerous occasions in the late 19th and early 20th century, so it is fitting that the Portrait Gallery was able to bring this work back to Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the Hartley Dodge Foundation.”


“Travers’ painting only adds to the story of the ‘America’s Presidents’ exhibition,” said Nicolas W. Platt, president of the Hartley Dodge Foundation. “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.”


Joining the painting is a new tactile display designed for blind and low vision visitors. The display will present a free-standing structure with 3D-printed copies of one face mask by Leonard Volk and one face mask and a set of two hand by Clark Mills. Positioned next to the glass-enclosed plaster casts that have been on display for years, the new touchable copies will include braille descriptions and new audio content to provide a more inclusive experience.


Both new exhibits will be installed by February 7th in time for the museum's Presidential Family Fun Day scheduled to take place in the museum's courtyard on Saturday, February 18th.


As always, admission is free for the museum and the attached Smithsonian American Art Museum (in the building that served as the Patent Office in Lincoln's time). The Family Fun Day festival will also be free.


This is a great chance for Lincoln Group of DC members to see this unique life-size painting of Lincoln. Don't miss it.


Photo Credit: “Abraham Lincoln,” Willem Frederik Karel Travers, oil on canvas, 1865. On loan from the Hartley Dodge Foundation, and courtesy of the citizens of the Borough of Madison, New Jersey. Photo by Joe Painter, Courtesy of the Hartley Dodge Foundation.

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