I had the pleasure of viewing the exhibit this past week during my "Lincoln Weekend" in Washington, D.C. A friend of mine had told me just how special this exhibit is and I'm happy to say she was correct.
The centerpiece of this exhibit is the photo I show at the top of this posting, the famous "cracked plate" photo of Lincoln taken just two months before his death, in February 1865. No, this is NOT the last photo of Lincoln as so many people still believe. But this is probably the most famous photo of Lincoln and is quite possibly one of the most famous in American history. Even after the deaths of 600,000 men in the Civil War, and the deaths of two of his four children, Lincoln was able to bring himself to have the slightest smile in this photo, as he realized that the horror of war was nearly over. The crack in the original negative adds poignancy to this photo of Lincoln. The print on exhibit is an original albumen silver print from 1865. Click here for more information plus an MP3 discussion about it.
The true last portrait known of Lincoln is also on display in the exhibit. Lincoln was apparently not pleased by the "surprise" photo as his face shows a little bit of anger. Recent research has shown that this photo was taken on March 6, 1865, at least a few weeks after the "cracked plate" photo.
My personal favorite Lincoln image is represented in the exhibit. This is the famous "Gettysburg" portrait in which Lincoln is staring directly at the camera. Taken only 11 days prior to the Gettysburg Address, it shows Lincoln as resolute, determined, and almost handsome.
All in all, there are roughly 40 images of Lincoln on display in this exhibit, all of them rare and priceless. The viewer can see ambrotype, stereo cards, cartes-de-visites, and prints of captivating images of Mr. Lincoln. No photography was permitted in the exhibit. But the link I provided in the opening paragraph contains every image of Lincoln on display along with a description.
Strangely, the National Portrait Gallery has chosen to not publish a companion book for this wonderful exhibit. It's a pity, because such a book could explain the images in-depth and in context for the enthusiast. Yes, books have been published in the past which contain every known pose of Lincoln, but this exhibit is so unique and special that a companion book should have been done. I know I would have purchased one.
The exhibit is fairly small, but incredibly well done. It was special being able to see original prints and plates of these famous Lincoln images. It is not to be missed.
My rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 Log Cabins