Gettysburg artist Wendy Allen is in love with President Abraham Lincoln. Her obsession with the 16th president dates back more than 30 years, and in that time, she has painted hundreds of images of him. Her Lincoln is not the stiff face seen daily on the dollar bill. Her Lincoln lives.
Harold Holzer, Lincoln expert and a Metropolitan Museum of Art vice-president, calls Allen the best Lincoln painter of the “new and now,” meaning she sees that iconic face with a fresh perspective and makes him relevant for a modern audience. Commenting on her work in his introduction to a retrospective collection of her art published in 2013 — “Lincoln Into Art” — Holzer wrote, “Most remarkably of all, these pictures manage to deconstruct history’s most irresistible face and then compellingly reassemble the image we think we know intimately into forms so fresh they seem to carry the aroma of fresh paint.”
Lincoln is Allen’s main subject, and she has rendered him in a multitude of colors and moods. In one image, he is seen faintly through what might be a swirl of yellow and orange fire, and in another, he is rendered in wispy black strokes with penetrating eyes that seem to watch the observer. In a third, he appears as a young man with more natural skin tones and his trademark flyway hair, but like Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Mona Lisa, his expression is open to interpretation.
While attending the Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg several years ago, I purchased one of her paintings. This Lincoln is a solemn man rendered in blue-grey with yellow undertones and seems to be in mourning. Most mysterious are his eyes that appear to have the 1000-yard stare of a weary soldier who looks off into the distance watching some scene unfold that we cannot see.
Allen, born in 1955, divides her time between a home in New Milford, Conn., and her studio and galley in Gettysburg. Her original paintings range from about $750 to $10,000, and prints are available for about $200.