The portraits of Lincoln tell the story of Lincoln’s war.
It is a fairly common observation that being president changes a man. And when the day arrives that a woman holds that office, it will most likely be said of her also. The duty is great, the commitment is long, and the experience is intense. The portraits of the early presidents might lie a little, because the artist might have embellished the images a bit, but the photographs are, perhaps, more truthful to the moment, as they are exact and leave less to man-handling and translation than do works of artistic portraiture—this, before the days of Photoshop, of course.
Images of Abraham Lincoln over a five year period tell the entire story of the burdens of the presidency, leaving no doubt as to the effect of the Civil War's toll on our sixteenth president.
Before the war, Abraham Lincoln had no beard. He was fifty-one years old when the image below was taken by Mathew Brady.
Early in the war, President Lincoln grew a beard. He was fifty-four in 1863 and the war had been on for two years when Alexander Gardner took this second image.
Just before the close of the war, President Lincoln was the subject of this last and most famous image, again the work of Alexander Gardner.
Over the years since Lincoln's death, parallels have been drawn and metaphors have been created between the war that ravaged the face of the nation and the obvious deterioration Lincoln suffered from the same experience; Walt Whitman's O Captain, My Captain is easily the most recognized among those tropes.
Next week we will conclude our opening discussions of the war with some notes on President Lincoln's leadership and the union cause.
—Warren Perry, Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery
Abraham Lincoln / Mathew Brady/ Salted paper print, 1860 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Abraham Lincoln / Alexander Gardner / Glass plate collodion negative, 1863/National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution:gift of the James Smithson Society, CBS Television Network, and James Macatee
Abraham Lincoln / Alexander Gardner/ Albumen silver print, 1865/National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution