A conserved glass-plate image of Abraham Lincoln from 1860 is being presented to the public for the first time and is not only Lincolns personal favorite portrait but it is the closest one will get to seeing Lincoln. In honor of the bicentennial of Lincolns birth, a display titled Lincoln Portrait: Conservation of a National Treasure will go on view beginning Feb. 1 at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography & Film
The museum is showcasing its two-year conservation treatment of a partially shattered glass-plate interpositive of Lincoln. The image, depicting a handsome and beardless Lincoln, was taken when he was beginning his presidential run. It is celebrated as one of the best portraits made of the 16th president, and he was in agreement. That looks better and expresses me better than any I have ever seen; if it pleases the people I am satisfied," Lincoln said, in response to the portrait.
The interpositive an intermediate format used to generate negatives for volume production of prints was made directly from the original wet-plate collodion negative, which captured the light from Lincolns face during the June 3, 1860 sitting. This is the only known interpositive of this portrait. The original negative, held at the Smithsonian Institution, is shattered.
This image is the closest you will ever get to seeing Lincoln, short of putting your eyeballs on the man himself, explained Grant Romer, director of the museums Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation, who is one of the worlds leading experts on 19th-century and Lincoln photography. This is Lincoln in high definition. You can see more detail than youll ever see in a copy print.
As a world leader in photograph conservation, Eastman House was sought out by the plates owner, who chooses to remain anonymous. The glass plate was conserved by Eastman House conservation staff and fellows in the Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation. Much of the work involved research in innovative methods, using materials that stabilize the fragile glass and image emulsion for today, and will preserve this national treasure for future generations.
The original portrait was taken by Alexander Hesler and the silver gelatin interpositive was made by George P. Ayres. Also on view from the Eastman House collections will be a treasured 8x10 albumen print of Lincoln made by Ayres, derived from this interpositive. The Lincoln Portrait display is included with regular museum admission.
We know Lincoln not because of a painting of Lincoln, not because of a statue of Lincoln, but because of photographs of Lincoln, said Romer, who noted there are 130 to 140 different portraits of Lincoln. Eastman House holds a rich collection of Lincoln images, and many will be on view this winter at Rochesters Memorial Art Gallery, in the exhibition Lincoln in Rochester.
Romer discusses the Lincoln glass-plate restoration project as part of a podcast, which you can access at http://podcast.eastmanhouse.org/2007/09