In Honor of Presidents’ Day, First Lady Pritzker Donates Iconic Lincoln Bust to ALPLM


Office of the Governor
JB Pritzker

SPRINGFIELD - At a time of intense division in the nation, First Lady MK Pritzker announced that she is donating an iconic bust of President Lincoln to his presidential library in Springfield to inspire unity among Illinoisans and Americans.

Acclaimed sculptor Leonard Volk created the commanding depiction for the 1860 presidential campaign. It proved incredibly popular and helped establish Lincoln’s image among voters eager to know more about the presidential candidate.

The bust being donated to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum once belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and was displayed in their Springfield home.

“President Lincoln’s vision for national unity amid poisonous and violent division rings true today more than any other time in my lifetime,” said First Lady MK Pritzker. “This iconic bust of President Lincoln is valuable for more than just the history it represents; it is valuable for the future that it inspires. I hope that the people of Illinois visit his presidential library to take in this breathtaking sculpture, and have the opportunity to reflect on the need for unity in our own time.”

Gary Johnson, chairman of the ALPLM’s Board of Trustees thanked First Lady Pritzker for the generous donation.

“This treasure helps tell the story of Abraham Lincoln’s journey from politician to president to national icon. It humanizes Lincoln while still managing to capture the strength and determination the nation would soon need,” Johnson said.

“We were overjoyed to learn that this amazing piece of President Lincoln’s legacy is coming to the ALPLM. It’s both a powerful piece of art and an important piece of history that deserves to be seen by Lincoln fans everywhere,” said Christina Shutt, the Library and Museum’s Executive Director. “We plan to display the bust as soon as possible so Lincoln admirers everywhere can visit us and appreciate its impact.”

First Lady Pritzker purchased the bust at auction last week for $400,000. The bust is being shipped directly to the ALPLM.

Volk’s sculpture helped blunt attacks Lincoln faced when he ran for president, explained Dr. Ian Hunt, the presidential library’s head of acquisitions.

“The image captured by Volk dispelled criticism of the future president as awkward, homely or weak. Volk’s work instead conveyed a sense of strength, integrity and character which certainly helped propel Lincoln into the White House,” Hunt said.

This copy of the bust was given to the Lincolns by the sculptor on May 18, 1860, the day after Lincoln won the Republican nomination for president. They kept it until moving to Washington, D.C., in February 1861. Instead of taking it with them, they gave it to neighbor and family friend Noyes Miner, and it remained in his family until purchased by the first lady.

An 1861 illustration of the Lincolns' home shows the bust on display in their formal parlor.

Miner’s descendants were also owners of a rare Lincoln Bible that they donated to the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in 2019.

Here are more details from the Heritage Auctions Catalogue Description:

Abraham Lincoln: His Personal Example of His Iconic Portrait Bust by Leonard Volk, Presented to Him by the Sculptor Himself. It is with great pride that Heritage presents for your consideration what may well be considered the most exciting and historically significant Lincoln artifact ever to appear on the open market. It is impossible to overstate the stir which this commanding depiction created when it appeared during the presidential campaign of 1860, and there is no doubt that, along with Mathew Brady's photographic image taken at the time of Lincoln's speech at Cooper Union, it played a vital role in humanizing the upstart Republican nominee for the voting public. This bust and the life mask created as part of the sculpting process would go on to become among the most recognizable examples of American sculpture, rivaled only perhaps by Daniel Chester French's figure of a seated Lincoln created for the Lincoln Memorial and the majestic heads carved into Mount Rushmore.

The bust is executed in neoclassical style, set on a base of vertical planes which lend a certain monumentality to the work. Later, smaller versions featured only Lincoln's head. Larger versions were also produced, one draped in a classical toga. Ultimately there would be tens of thousands of reproductions in every size and medium.

Early in 1860, the rising candidate was approached by an entrepreneurially-minded Chicago artist named Leonard Volk. ... The finished product was ready in time to be unveiled at the time of the Republican National Convention in Chicago. … The Chicago Tribune would write of the sculpture "For fidelity of likeness and execution" the depiction was "unsurpassed.... It is worthy of a place in every Republican counting house, office, and library in the land." The Chicago Record added " admirable piece of work, and a perfect 'counterfeit' presentment of Honest Old Abe." Volk undertook an ambitious promotional plan, with national advertising, circulars, and even an army of salesmen armed with order blanks.

In May of 1860, Leonard Volk visited the Lincolns in Springfield and presented them with one of the early "cabinet" examples of his bust. Lincoln gave it a place of prominence in his parlor, on a vitrine next to the fireplace, until the family decamped for Washington in February 1861. At that time he gifted it to his friend and neighbor, Rev. Noyes Miner, who would later speak at Lincoln's Springfield funeral service. The bust was cherished by Miner and passed down through generations of his family along with another important artifact, an elaborate Bible inscribed to Lincoln and presented to him by the ladies of Philadelphia at the Sanitary Fair of 1864. Mary Lincoln had that book re-inscribed and presented it to Rev. Miner, who had become a close friend and confidante, after the President's death. In 1882, Rev. Miner penned a marvelous, lengthy account of his relationship with the Lincolns in which he details how the present bust came into his possession. The original manuscript is now held by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. With their generous cooperation, we present the entire manuscript in a link from our online description of this lot. In 2019, the Bible was presented with great fanfare to that museum, but the family retained possession of the Volk bust until the decision was made to offer it at auction.

The bust stands 15 inches tall including the base, and 12 1/2 inches tall without the base, and retains its original finish and a rich cabinet patina. For strictest accuracy, we note that minor surface flakes have been retouched by a skilled professional restorer. It is accompanied by a notarized statement of provenance from the consignor, who is a direct descendant of Rev. Noyes Miner and Chairman Emeritus of the New York Historical Society.

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