- Alexander Gardner
- PORTRAIT OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
- albumen print
- 18¼ by 14½ in. (46.4 by 36.8 cm.)
The photograph offered here is one of only a handful of large-format 'Imperial' prints extant of this striking portrait by Alexander Gardner. Gardner has been credited with introducing the Imperial format to the United States, when he was hired by Mathew Brady in 1856. Gardner, a Scotsman, had learned the new wet-plate collodion process before coming to this country. His technical and aesthetic mastery with this demanding process made him an ideal hire for Brady, who struggled to maintain an edge against his photographic competitors. The negative/positive wet-plate process could produce multiple copies of a single image—a clear improvement over the daguerreotype and the ambrotype which were, by definition, unique images. The large-format albumen print, Gardner's forté, made even the largest cased images seem diminutive in comparison. Brady, with characteristic showmanship, dubbed the new photographs 'Imperial.'
In the late 1850s and early 1860s, Gardner ran the operations of Brady's Washington studio, proving himself not only a highly-skilled photographer, but a brilliant businessman as well. By 1862, however, Gardner had grown dissatisfied with Brady's management of the business, and set out on his own. While at Brady's, Gardner had photographed Abraham Lincoln as President-elect in 1861. That sitting established a relationship between photographer and President that would continue until Lincoln's death. No other single photographer took Lincoln's likeness as many times as Gardner, and the photographer's documentation of Lincoln provides an invaluable character study of one of our most important presidents during a crucial juncture in this country's history.
Gardner took the portrait of Lincoln offered here on 8 November 1863, along with four other studies made during the same sitting. In the summer of 1863, the Union troops had defeated the Confederates at Gettysburg, but at incalculable costs to both sides. This portrait shows Lincoln just eleven days before he delivered the Gettysburg Address, one of the most important presidential speeches ever made.
As of this writing, few Imperial-sized prints of this image have been located. Two are in the collection of Stephan Loewentheil (one of which was purchased at Cowan's Auctions, Cincinnati, in December 2008). Another is in the collection of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation. A trimmed oval version is held by the Library of Congress. Another large print, heavily cropped, was offered at Swann Galleries, New York, on 3 October 1994 (Sale 1669, Lot 406). Several trimmed or otherwise compromised prints have been reported in private collections.