The National Portrait Gallery Presents “One Life: The Mask of Lincoln” in Celebration of the 200th Anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Birth

November 7, 2008
News Release

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Just after Election Day, the National Portrait Gallery presents an exhibition exploring how Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12, 1809–April 15, 1865), one of America’s most revered presidents, crafted his public persona. His leadership during America’s most divisive crisis, the Civil War, was essential to the abolition of slavery and the preservation of the union. A continuation of the museum’s “One Life” series, “The Mask of Lincoln” will open Nov. 7, in anticipation of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, and will continue through July 5, 2009.

“The National Portrait Gallery is pleased to participate in the events surrounding the commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s birth,” said Martin E. Sullivan, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “Lincoln’s role in shaping America cannot be understated, and this exhibition uses portraits from our collection to offer us insight into how he shaped his identity and personality.”

The exhibition includes more than 30 images of Lincoln; most are from the Portrait Gallery’s extensive collection, such as the “tousled hair” portrait taken in 1857 and a Mathew Brady photograph taken just before Lincoln’s groundbreaking 1860 speech at the Cooper Union. The latter image is known as the “photograph that made Lincoln president.” The same photograph appears in a handsomely mounted gold campaign pin. Also in the exhibition are the “cracked-plate” photograph of Lincoln by Alexander Gardner, one of the last formal portraits taken of him; a drawing by Lambert Hollis, which is an eyewitness account of Lincoln’s arrival in Richmond only two days after the Confederate government evacuated the capital city in April 1865; and an engraving of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Americans in the 19th century identified themselves nearly equally by their religion and political party. This exhibition demonstrates that Lincoln was attuned to these cultural customs and used the emerging technology of photography to craft his image and keep himself in the mind’s eye of his fellow citizens. He sought out opportunities to be photographed and produced a continuous portrait record of his time in office.

The “One Life” series is a one-room exhibition that features the life of one person chosen by a curator or historian. “The Mask of Lincoln” is the fourth installment in the series; David C. Ward, National Portrait Gallery historian, served as the curator for the exhibition. It follows “Kate: A Centennial Celebration,” “Portraits of Sandra Day O’Connor” and “Walt Whitman, a kosmos.”

“One Life: The Mask of Lincoln,” is one of many exhibitions and programs planned at the Smithsonian that celebrate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. The complete list will be posted on

The exhibition Web site can be viewed at A free audio tour is available to download to mp3 players or visitors can dial (202) 747-3554 on their cell phones in the exhibition for the tour as well.

This exhibition is funded by the Guenther and Siewchin Yong Sommer Endowment Fund.

The National Portrait Gallery
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the history of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story. 

The National Portrait Gallery opened to the public in 1968. The museum’s collection of more than 20,000 works includes paintings, sculpture, photographs, drawings and new media. Located at Eighth and F streets N.W., in Washington, D.C., it is open every day, except Dec. 25, from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000; (202) 633-5285 (TTY). Web site:

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Note to editors: Selected images for publicity may be downloaded from a password-protected FTP site. Call (202) 633-8295 for information to access the site.


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Bethany Bentley

(202) 633-8293