The Washington Post

Abraham Lincoln gets a shave

A few weeks late for those No-Shave November parties, the Corcoran is putting a rare, whiskerless portrait of Abraham Lincoln on display.

George Peter Alexander Healy, Abraham Lincoln, 1860. Oil on canvas. (George Peter Alexander Healy /Courtesy of the Corcoran)

The painting by George Peter Alexander Healy comes with an interesting anecdote, via Corcoran press release:

Shortly before Americans went to the polls to elect the nation’s sixteenth president, a young girl from Westfield, New York wrote a letter to Lincoln, counseling, “You would look a great deal better [with a beard] for your face is so thin.” Amused by the girl’s frankness, Lincoln shared the letter with Healy, who had traveled from his home in Chicago to Springfield, Illinois to paint the president-elect’s portrait. Healy recalls Lincoln saying: “As a painter . . . you should be a judge between this unknown correspondent and me. She complains of my ugliness. It is allowed to be ugly in the world, but not as ugly as I am. She wishes me to put on false whiskers, to hide my horrible lantern jaws. Will you paint me with false whiskers?” Healy refused Lincoln’s request; this 1860 portrait is a rare beardless likeness of the president, who would grow whiskers by the time of his inauguration on March 4, 1861.

The portrait is on display in honor of the sesquicentennial of the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, and President Obama’s upcoming inauguration. It’s probably also thanks to this winter’s Lincoln Madness — the film, the sound effects, the director, the politics, and everything else. See it in the Corcoran’s atrium through Feb. 15, 2013.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.


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