Lincoln or Bust

By Harold Holzer
8/18/2009 • Abraham Lincoln, Civil War 1863, Civil War Battlefields, Civil War Images, Confederate Generals, CWT LookingatLincoln, CWT Online Special, The Gettysburg Address

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.