Dominican University will present a program on the amazing discovery by painting conservator Barry Bauman that a portrait of Mary Lincoln was actually a fake.
In addition to a lecture by Bauman on his discovery, the program will include a presentation by Dr. James Cornelius, curator at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, on the history of Lincoln fakes and forgeries.
The program, which will include the unveiling of the deceptive portrait, will be held on Sunday, November 4, at 3 p.m. in the Martin Recital Hall, 7900 W. Division Street.
Bauman discovered the hoax and unraveled its mystery while restoring the painting last year at Cornelius’ behest. The portrait, which had been in the Lincoln family since the 1920s, was donated to the State of Illinois in 1976 and hung in the governor’s mansion in Springfield from 1978 until 2010 when Cornelius commissioned Bauman to restore it.
But it’s what happened to the painting before it got into the hands of the Lincoln family that is the most fascinating chapter of the story, and the part that required clever sleuthing by Bauman.
According to an affidavit attached to the back of the painting and written by Lew Bloom, a minor artist with a checkered career including stints as a jockey, circus clown and vaudeville comedian, the portrait of Mary Lincoln was commissioned in 1864 by the First Lady as a surprise for her husband.
She solicited artist Francis B. Carpenter, who was living in the White House while painting the masterpiece "The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation," to do the honors.
But, according to the affidavit, Lincoln was assassinated before the painting could be gifted and in her grief, Mary Lincoln asked Carpenter to destroy it.
Carpenter instead sold it to Jacob Neafie, a wealthy Philadelphia shipbuilder who, in turn, gave the painting to Bloom’s sister, Susan, for the great care she had provided Neafie’s wife before she passed away.
Bloom then brought the painting to New York Art dealer Edward Milch, who displayed the "never-before-seen" portrait with great fanfare in his gallery in 1929.
Mary Lincoln’s granddaughter, Jessie Harlan Lincoln, purchased the portrait and kept it in the family until 1976 when Abraham Lincoln’s last living descendent, great grandson Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, donated it to the Illinois State Historical Society.
However, during the course of his restoration, Bauman discovered not only that the portrait was a fraud but that the affidavit was a charade as well.
While removing the grime and aged varnish that had dulled the painting for decades, he realized that the original portrait was not of Mary Lincoln but an anonymous, unknown 19th century woman.
During his lecture, Bauman will reveal the red flags that led to his stunning revelation.
In his lecture, Dr. James Cornelius will share many more examples of Lincoln shams over the past century, including paintings, signatures, photographs, printed documents and supposed Lincoln family relics.
While this program is free, space is limited and reservations are strongly suggested. For more information, visit the website at dom.edu/newsevents/lincoln
To make a reservation, contact Jessica Mackinnon, director of public information, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 708-524-6289.
About Barry Bauman
Founder of Barry Bauman Conservation, Barry Bauman holds a master’s degree in art history from the University of Chicago and served as associate conservator of paintings and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago before founding the Chicago Conservation Center in 1983. Major projects have included the conservation of 172 flood-damaged paintings for the Chicago Historical Society and the preservation of over 400 WPA and pre-WPA murals for the Chicago Public Schools. In addition, Bauman has restored several works of art from Dominican University’s permanent collection. He is an Elected Fellow of the American Institute for Conservation.
About James Cornelius
Cornelius managed the vast books and papers of the University of Illinois Library’s acclaimed Illinois Historical and Lincoln Collections for eight years before taking the position of curator at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in 2007. He has also served as an editor at Doubleday, Random House and Collier’s Encyclopedia. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from Lawrence University and a PhD in history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.