Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), 1865
Matthew Henry Wilson (American, 1814–1892)
Oil on canvas
Bequest of Mrs. William S. Speed 1968.40.3

How much will it cost? $4,000


Honestly, Abe isn’t looking too great in this painting. Major improvement is anticipated with a full conservation treatment, but it requires both structural and cosmetic intervention. The canvas has gone slack on its stretcher, and there are conspicuous planar deformations throughout—essentially meaning that the canvas is rippling and moving where it should not be. An old layer of varnish has discolored, giving the overall appearance a dull, uneven haze. There is extremely poor color saturation—Lincoln appears flattened, like a cartoon; ideally, his hair and flesh would have a sense of depth and form. Even worse, there are two layers of black grime: one is coating the top surface of the varnish, and the other is embedded beneath. Essentially, at some point, somebody applied a coat of varnish over an already-filthy painting, thinking that it would improve the appearance and make it brighter. Instead, it only trapped the dirt underneath, sealing it in.

Treatment includes the assessment of the auxiliary support, adjusting the tension of the canvas, and strip-lining the edges of the painting, if necessary. First, the surface grime will be removed, then the old coat of varnish, then the trapped layers of dirt which coats the original paint layer. Any losses and areas of abrasion will be filled and retouched, and a stable resin will be applied.