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Lincoln or Bust

By Harold Holzer
8/18/2009 • Civil War Images, CWT Online Special

Abraham Lincoln posed for several famous photographs at Alexander Gardner’s Washington, D.C., gallery on November 8, 1863: one with his private secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay, and another full-face close-up that showed the steely-eyed president staring directly into the camera. The pictures were taken just 11 days before Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, adding special interest to these poses.
But one question remained: Why did the president also pose for an unusual face-to-waist profile that actually showed him looking away from Gardner’s probing camera? The answer can be found in Hay’s White House diary.

“Went with Mrs Ames to Gardner’s gallery & were soon joined by Nico & the Prest.,” reads Hay’s entry for November 8. “We had a great many pictures taken.”

Therein lies the explanation. The extra guest at the studio that day was sculptor Sarah Fisher Ames, recently commissioned by Congress to craft a bust of Lincoln. Clearly Ames required a model of her subject’s brawny shoulders and arms. View her marble creation outside the U.S. Senate gallery today: Its debt to this odd pose is obvious. Sometimes artists made pictures for other artists, not for the public.

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