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From the Collection: Wood Engraving Print of Abraham Lincoln

February 14, 2012

This month, in honor of this birthday, the From the Collection series spotlights a portrait of Abraham Lincoln created by wood engraver Gustav Kruell (1843-1907). This delicate print, made from a wood engraving on tissue paper, is housed in The Drexel Collection.

Abraham Lincoln wood carving print from The Drexel Collection

Born in Germany, Gustav Kruell arrived in America in 1873 and immediately became known for his wood engravings. Wood engraving is a technique in printmaking—the artist uses an engraving tool, or a burin, to cut out areas of the wood for the image. It is a created by the relief process, meaning the raised area of the wood receives the ink.

In 1881, Gustav Kruell organized the Society of American Wood Engravers. He made more than 200 portraits including those of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and General Ulysses S. Grant. His portrait of Abraham Lincoln is considered his finest work.

Kruell is known for his artistic appreciation of light and shade and his sympathetic interpretation of his sitters. The print captures the delicacy associated with the face of Abraham Lincoln.

To ensure its protection, Mylar was placed over the print and an acid-free mat was made for it. The mat and the wood engraving are stored in an acid-free folder custom-made for the piece. The print is signed and dated 1891.

The prototype for this wood engraving was an 1859 photograph by Samuel M. Fassett. Lincoln sat for the portrait in the Gallery of Cooke and Fassett in Chicago on October 4, 1859. Lincoln’s wife, Mary, thought it to be the best likeness of her husband. The original photograph is in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution. The negative was lost in the Chicago fire of 1871.

Abraham Lincoln was president from March 4, 1861 until his death on April 15, 1865, when he became the first president to be assassinated. The assassination occurred five days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant.

--Jacqueline DeGroff