IN HIS 1798 ENGRAVING, Edward Savage depicted George Washington as both statesman and family man. Widely published in the 1840s and '50s, this print provided a model for the Victorian engravings that can be seen in "Private Lives of Public Figures: The 19th Century Family Print" at the Portrait Gallery.
What the public wanted in these popular prints was a memento of a hero enshrined in happy family life. They wanted to forget the Civil War, which, in a print of the Lincoln household, was relegated to a symbolic bouquet of flowers. Death was sentimentalized, if not overlooked: Lincoln's son Willie appeared in a family print as the youngest child (in fact he was the middle child), four years after he died. And Lincoln himself found his rest in the popular "Lincoln at Home" prints after his assassination.
Home really was heaven to U.S. Grant and to Grover Cleveland, who appears in one of the prints here with his wife and daughter, Baby Ruth. Not so to Horace Greeley: Though he was always short of cash, he is nonetheless shown in the requisite posh parlor of the artist's devising.
These 14 family portraits, most of them drawn from photographs, are deathly still. Photographic sources especially didn't help in the charming but bizarre lithograph of James Garfield's clan, where family members look off in all directions, and Garfield's head is outsized.
After Garfield's death, sales of his family lithograph boomed. There were also family portraits to commemmorate the deaths of Civil War generals, such as John A. Logan.
In retrospect, it was a dreary, false business which photography soon replaced entirely.
PRIVATE LIVES OF PUBLIC FIGURES: THE 19th- CENTURY FAMILY PRINT -- At the Portrait Gallery through April 13, 1986.