Lincoln and the Civil War

Senior vice president Harold Holzer reflects upon works dating from the tumultuous period in American history of Abraham Lincoln.

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I first became interested in Abraham Lincoln by accident.

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  • Harold Holzer
    1280852
  • Abraham Lincoln  |  1863, printed 1901  |  Alexander Gardner (American)  |  Gelatin silver print  |  Warner Communications Inc. Purchase Fund, 1976 (1976.627.1)
    8561024
  • Abraham Lincoln  |  1863, printed 1901  |  Alexander Gardner (American)  |  Gelatin silver print  |  Warner Communications Inc. Purchase Fund, 1976 (1976.627.1)
    1126820
  • Life Mask of Abraham Lincoln  |  1860, cast 1886  |  Leonard Wells Volk (American) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American)  |  Bronze  |  Purchase, Jonathan L. Cohen and Allison B. Morrow Gift and Friends of the American Wing Fund, 2007 (2007.185.2)
    8761024
  • Life Mask of Abraham Lincoln  |  1860, cast 1886  |  Leonard Wells Volk (American) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American)  |  Bronze  |  Purchase, Jonathan L. Cohen and Allison B. Morrow Gift and Friends of the American Wing Fund, 2007 (2007.185.2)
    9341024
  • Right Hand of Abraham Lincoln  |  1860, cast 1886  |  Leonard Wells Volk (American) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American)  |  Bronze  |  Purchase, Jonathan L. Cohen and Allison B. Morrow Gift and Friends of the American Wing Fund, 2007 (2007.185.1)
    10591024
  • Right Hand of Abraham Lincoln  |  1860, cast 1886  |  Leonard Wells Volk (American) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American)  |  Bronze  |  Purchase, Jonathan L. Cohen and Allison B. Morrow Gift and Friends of the American Wing Fund, 2007 (2007.185.1)
    10011024
  • Right Hand of Abraham Lincoln  |  1860, cast 1886  |  Leonard Wells Volk (American) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American)  |  Bronze  |  Purchase, Jonathan L. Cohen and Allison B. Morrow Gift and Friends of the American Wing Fund, 2007 (2007.185.1)
    9961024
  • Abraham Lincoln  |  1860  |  William Marsh (American)  |  Salted paper print from glass negative  |  Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2005 (2005.100.89)
    8301024
  • Abraham Lincoln  |  1860  |  William Marsh (American)  |  Salted paper print from glass negative  |  Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2005 (2005.100.89)
    1218848
  • The Last Moments of John Brown  |  1882–84  |  Thomas Hovenden (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stoeckel, 1897 (97.5)
    8291024
  • Approaching Thunder Storm  |  1859  |  Martin Johnson Heade (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Erving Wolf Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Erving Wolf, 1975 (1975.160)
    1280805
  • Rainy Day in Camp  |  1871  |  Winslow Homer (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Mrs. William F. Milton, 1923 (23.77.1)
    1280699
  • A Bit of War History: The Contraband  |  1865  |  Thomas Waterman Wood (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Charles Stewart Smith, 1884 (84.12a)
    7271024
  • A Bit of War History: The Recruit  |  1866  |  Thomas Waterman Wood (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Charles Stewart Smith, 1884 (84.12b)
    7301024
  • A Bit of War History: The Veteran  |  1866  |  Thomas Waterman Wood (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Charles Stewart Smith, 1884 (84.12c)
    7271024
  • The Veteran in a New Field  |  1865  |  Winslow Homer (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967 (67.187.131)
    1280808
  • The Veteran in a New Field  |  1865  |  Winslow Homer (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967 (67.187.131)
    11211024
  • Negro Boy Dancing  |  1878  |  Thomas Eakins (American)  |  Watercolor on off-white wove paper  |  Fletcher Fund, 1925 (25.97.1)
    12761024
  • Negro Boy Dancing  |  1878  |  Thomas Eakins (American)  |  Watercolor on off-white wove paper  |  Fletcher Fund, 1925 (25.97.1)
    748767
  • Negro Boy Dancing  |  1878  |  Thomas Eakins (American)  |  Watercolor on off-white wove paper  |  Fletcher Fund, 1925 (25.97.1)
    12761024
  • Talking It Over  |  1872  |  Enoch Wood Perry (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Erving and Joyce Wolf, in memory of Diane R. Wolf, 1980 (1980.361)
    1280960
  • Talking It Over  |  1872  |  Enoch Wood Perry (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Erving and Joyce Wolf, in memory of Diane R. Wolf, 1980 (1980.361)
    7681024
  • Talking It Over  |  1872  |  Enoch Wood Perry (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Erving and Joyce Wolf, in memory of Diane R. Wolf, 1980 (1980.361)
    8051024
  • Talking It Over  |  1872  |  Enoch Wood Perry (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Erving and Joyce Wolf, in memory of Diane R. Wolf, 1980 (1980.361)
    1280960
  • Prisoners from the Front  |  1866  |  Winslow Homer (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Mrs. Frank B. Porter, 1922 (22.207)
    1280808
  • Prisoners from the Front  |  1866  |  Winslow Homer (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Mrs. Frank B. Porter, 1922 (22.207)
    6591024
  • Prisoners from the Front  |  1866  |  Winslow Homer (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Mrs. Frank B. Porter, 1922 (22.207)
    1280833
  • Harold Holzer
    1280852
  • I'm Harold Holzer, I'm the Senior Vice President for External Affairs at the Met, and I also write books about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.

  • I first became interested in Abraham Lincoln by accident. I was a student in the fifth grade in Queens, my romantic beginnings, and we were assigned to pick a name from our teacher's hat, literally.

  • I picked Lincoln, needless to say, and my friend who was right behind me picked out Genghis Khan, and he became a rock and roll promoter, so you never know. These are very powerful influences.

  • I start always with the first works of art for which Abraham Lincoln sat. He posed for a life mask in Chicago in the spring of 1860, and the sculptor put straws in his nostrils and covered his face in plaster, and the plaster hardened really tight. He couldn't get the mask off of Lincoln's face, and Lincoln motioned that he would do it, and he pulled and pulled and pulled hairs in his temple out

  • with the mask. But it brought tears to his eyes, and the sculptor remembered that he was the first subject he made cry. After Lincoln was nominated for the presidency two months later, the sculptor came to Springfield, Illinois

  • to cast Lincoln's hands in plaster. But, his right hand was so swollen from the thousands of handshakes, that it swelled beyond recognition. So Volk said, "Maybe you should hold something."

  • The next thing Volk heard was some sawing coming from the wood shed. Lincoln was actually sawing a broom handle.

  • So the Met owns the right hand in bronze, and it shows the swollen hand. And recently

  • we acquired a photograph that was made at exactly this same time. If you look very carefully for Lincoln's

  • right hand, you'll see he's covering it with his left hand. It's really unique and it hearkens back to that transcendent moment when Lincoln went from dark horse to nominee and likely president in just a few days.

  • Of course the country was changing rapidly, and we talk about the political climate being so heated these days. It was much more heated in 1859, 1860.

  • Martin Johnson Heade's Approaching Thunder Storm is often described as a scene that he had witnessed in New England, but in fact, it's also a reflection of the portent of war.

  • The Met collection also reflects the efforts of the common soldier and their struggles to preserve the union and end slavery.

  • One of the most extraordinary is called A Little Bit of War History, painted right after the war, but showing the evolution of the life of one African American and his progress through the war

  • and a reminder that the end of slavery, the beginnings of equal rights, were not achieved simply by the stroke of Lincoln's pen, but by African Americans fighting

  • for their their own freedom. So this was a moment when black contributions were recognized, but it was a brief moment in time.

  • On the other side of the coin we have The Veteran in a New Field. You get the feeling, or I do, that the wheat is a symbol for the return to prosperity. Yet at the same time

  • he's using a scythe, and one cannot help think about the grim reaper. And that reminds at least this viewer of the fact that so much blood had been shed in the war to make this renewal possible.

  • But just as a reminder that the experience of renewal doesn't apply to everybody: Eakins' painting of what he calls a Negro Boy Dancing. You look at three generations of a family. What fascinates me is that in the background is

  • a medallion portrait of Abraham Lincoln and his son, Tad. And we know that many African American homes had pictures of Lincoln. But what is it saying to us that it's not just Lincoln, it's Lincoln and his son? Is it saying that

  • African American multigenerational opportunity is not the same as presidential white opportunity? Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but the inclusion of Lincoln is a symbol both of appreciation and limitation.

  • Talking It Over is not a Civil War painting and it's not a Lincoln painting. You've got two people discussing life. But darned if the

  • older fellow on the left is not the spitting image of George Washington.

  • And on the right, the younger, bigger, and maybe a little bit more vigorous farmer bears an astonishing resemblance to Abraham Lincoln.

  • To me it's about American history and its first hundred years.

  • These serious, reflective pieces, I think, they give assurance that this is something that's still in the public mind.

  • There was glory attached to the war, but at what incredible, unfathomable cost.

  • How long did it take us to deliver on the promise of equality and opportunity? The debate continues, and it's a good reminder to see it through the lens of

  • artistic tradition and experimentation.

  • 1976.627.1
    Abraham Lincoln, 1863, printed 1901, Alexander Gardner (American), Gelatin silver print Warner Communications Inc. Purchase Fund, 1976 (1976.627.1)
  • 2007.185.2
    Life Mask of Abraham Lincoln, 1860, cast 1886, Leonard Wells Volk (American) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American), Bronze Purchase, Jonathan L. Cohen and Allison B. Morrow Gift and Friends of the American Wing Fund, 2007 (2007.185.2)
  • 2007.185.1
    Right Hand of Abraham Lincoln, 1860, cast 1886, Leonard Wells Volk (American) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American), Bronze Purchase, Jonathan L. Cohen and Allison B. Morrow Gift and Friends of the American Wing Fund, 2007 (2007.185.1)
  • 2005.100.89
    Abraham Lincoln, 1860, William Marsh (American), Salted paper print from glass negative Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2005 (2005.100.89)
  • 97.5
    The Last Moments of John Brown, 1882–84, Thomas Hovenden (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stoeckel, 1897 (97.5)
  • 1975.160
    Approaching Thunder Storm, 1859, Martin Johnson Heade (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Erving Wolf Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Erving Wolf, 1975 (1975.160)
  • 23.77.1
    Rainy Day in Camp, 1871, Winslow Homer (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Mrs. William F. Milton, 1923 (23.77.1)
  • 84.12a
    A Bit of War History: The Contraband, 1865, Thomas Waterman Wood (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Charles Stewart Smith, 1884 (84.12a)
  • 84.12b
    A Bit of War History: The Recruit, 1866, Thomas Waterman Wood (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Charles Stewart Smith, 1884 (84.12b)
  • 84.12c
    A Bit of War History: The Veteran, 1866, Thomas Waterman Wood (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Charles Stewart Smith, 1884 (84.12c)
  • 67.187.131
    The Veteran in a New Field, 1865, Winslow Homer (American), Oil on canvas Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967 (67.187.131)
  • 25.97.1
    Negro Boy Dancing, 1878, Thomas Eakins (American), Watercolor on off-white wove paper Fletcher Fund, 1925 (25.97.1)
  • 1980.361
    Talking It Over, 1872, Enoch Wood Perry (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Erving and Joyce Wolf, in memory of Diane R. Wolf, 1980 (1980.361)
  • 22.207
    Prisoners from the Front, 1866, Winslow Homer (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Mrs. Frank B. Porter, 1922 (22.207)
  • Abraham Lincoln, 1863, printed 1901, Alexander Gardner (American), Gelatin silver print Warner Communications Inc. Purchase Fund, 1976 (1976.627.1)
    Life Mask of Abraham Lincoln, 1860, cast 1886, Leonard Wells Volk (American) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American), Bronze Purchase, Jonathan L. Cohen and Allison B. Morrow Gift and Friends of the American Wing Fund, 2007 (2007.185.2)
    Right Hand of Abraham Lincoln, 1860, cast 1886, Leonard Wells Volk (American) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American), Bronze Purchase, Jonathan L. Cohen and Allison B. Morrow Gift and Friends of the American Wing Fund, 2007 (2007.185.1)
    Abraham Lincoln, 1860, William Marsh (American), Salted paper print from glass negative Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2005 (2005.100.89)
    The Last Moments of John Brown, 1882–84, Thomas Hovenden (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stoeckel, 1897 (97.5)
    Approaching Thunder Storm, 1859, Martin Johnson Heade (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Erving Wolf Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Erving Wolf, 1975 (1975.160)
    Rainy Day in Camp, 1871, Winslow Homer (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Mrs. William F. Milton, 1923 (23.77.1)
    A Bit of War History: The Contraband, 1865, Thomas Waterman Wood (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Charles Stewart Smith, 1884 (84.12a)
    A Bit of War History: The Recruit, 1866, Thomas Waterman Wood (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Charles Stewart Smith, 1884 (84.12b)
    A Bit of War History: The Veteran, 1866, Thomas Waterman Wood (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Charles Stewart Smith, 1884 (84.12c)
    The Veteran in a New Field, 1865, Winslow Homer (American), Oil on canvas Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967 (67.187.131)
    Negro Boy Dancing, 1878, Thomas Eakins (American), Watercolor on off-white wove paper Fletcher Fund, 1925 (25.97.1)
    Talking It Over, 1872, Enoch Wood Perry (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Erving and Joyce Wolf, in memory of Diane R. Wolf, 1980 (1980.361)
    Prisoners from the Front, 1866, Winslow Homer (American), Oil on canvas Gift of Mrs. Frank B. Porter, 1922 (22.207)
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    Abraham Lincoln
    1863, printed 1901
    Alexander Gardner (American)
    Gelatin silver print
    Warner Communications Inc. Purchase Fund, 1976 (1976.627.1)
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    Life Mask of Abraham Lincoln
    1860, cast 1886
    Leonard Wells Volk (American) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American)
    Bronze
    Purchase, Jonathan L. Cohen and Allison B. Morrow Gift and Friends of the American Wing Fund, 2007 (2007.185.2)
    On view: Gallery 762
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Right Hand of Abraham Lincoln
    1860, cast 1886
    Leonard Wells Volk (American) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American)
    Bronze
    Purchase, Jonathan L. Cohen and Allison B. Morrow Gift and Friends of the American Wing Fund, 2007 (2007.185.1)
    On view: Gallery 762
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Abraham Lincoln
    1860
    William Marsh (American)
    Salted paper print from glass negative
    Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2005 (2005.100.89)
    On view: Gallery 199
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    The Last Moments of John Brown
    1882–84
    Thomas Hovenden (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stoeckel, 1897 (97.5)
    On view: Gallery 762
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Approaching Thunder Storm
    1859
    Martin Johnson Heade (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Erving Wolf Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Erving Wolf, 1975 (1975.160)
    Not on view
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Rainy Day in Camp
    1871
    Winslow Homer (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Mrs. William F. Milton, 1923 (23.77.1)
    On view: Gallery 762
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    A Bit of War History: The Contraband
    1865
    Thomas Waterman Wood (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Charles Stewart Smith, 1884 (84.12a)
    On view: Gallery 762
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    A Bit of War History: The Recruit
    1866
    Thomas Waterman Wood (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Charles Stewart Smith, 1884 (84.12b)
    On view: Gallery 762
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    A Bit of War History: The Veteran
    1866
    Thomas Waterman Wood (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Charles Stewart Smith, 1884 (84.12c)
    On view: Gallery 762
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    The Veteran in a New Field
    1865
    Winslow Homer (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967 (67.187.131)
    Not on view
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Negro Boy Dancing
    1878
    Thomas Eakins (American)
    Watercolor on off-white wove paper
    Fletcher Fund, 1925 (25.97.1)
    Not on view
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Talking It Over
    1872
    Enoch Wood Perry (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Erving and Joyce Wolf, in memory of Diane R. Wolf, 1980 (1980.361)
    On view: Gallery 763
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Prisoners from the Front
    1866
    Winslow Homer (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Mrs. Frank B. Porter, 1922 (22.207)
    Not on view
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors

    © 2011 The Metropolitan Museum of Art