Lincoln-Calhoun Composite

The above famous photoportrait of Abraham Lincoln has his head placed upon the photo of another politician, John C. Calhoun. The trickery is attributed to Thomas Hicks – a portrait painter from that era who had painted Lincoln before — who was thought to have created this composite in the early to mid-1860s. Many historians believed that the photo was created after Lincoln’s assassination because there were hardly any heroic, Presidential looking portraits of Lincoln at that time. Calhoun’s image is a wood cut while the image of Lincoln is detailed, because it was taken from Mathew Brady’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln, the same one later used for $5 bills.

In his haste, Hicks didn’t noticed that when he flipped the Brady photo, the President’s famous mole would appear on the wrong side of his face. It was only years later that Stefan Lorant, the art director for the London Picture Post magazine, noticed that the photo was a fake.

The irony was that John C. Calhoun, a former vice president of the Untied States, was a vocal figure on states rights, and an inspiration for the Southern secessionists, even though he died a decade before the Civil War. Calhoun was an outspoken proponent of slavery and talked about it as a “positive good”.

24 thoughts on “Lincoln-Calhoun Composite”

  1. I don’t know that I’d call the crooked arm, cape clad look “heroic,” but I suppose tastes have changed over the years. Personally, I’m glad that Lincoln never actually posed for a portrait like this.

  2. Great paring, but Hicks wasn’t the culprit. Thomas Hicks (1823-1890) painted the original portrait of Calhoun after a photograph of Matthew Brady (ca. 1823-1896). Alexander Hay Ritchie (1822-1895) created a mezzotint (copper plate engraving) portrait of Calhoun based on the painting in 1852. I’m now working on editing the brief catalog entry for the mezzotint – but a high resolution scan from the original has been made by the Library of Congress’ Prints & Photographs Division: . Then, some time in the 1860s, and likely after Lincoln’s death, the New York printmaker William Pate created a mezzotint based on Ritchie’s and replaced Calhoun’s head with that of Lincoln. I’m now working on enhancing the catalog record, which is available here – . The Brady image of Calhoun was not a daguerreotype, but a wet, collodian glass plate negative, also in the collections of the Library of Congress –

    Sara W. Duke
    Curator, Popular & Applied Graphic Art
    Prints & Photographs Division
    Library of Congress
    Washington, DC 20540-4730

    1. The Brady image of Calhoun had to be a daguerreotype. The wet, collodian glass plate process was not invented until 1851 and not in use until until 1852. Calhoun died in 1850. Thus, the Brady portrait could not have been collodian made…it must have been daguerreotype (egg-white).

    2. So what’s the story behind John Russell Pope’s design of Calhoun College at Yale, and his people, agents, employees? creating the stained glass image of the Hick’s painting and substituting for the globe and flag and kneeling slave in chains? It is obvious the image was not designed to honor Calhoun but to dishonor him. Ditto for the other stained glass images, the two Africans in the field with baskets of wheat on their heads, etc.

    3. I have one of these. Would you have any idea what it might be worth. I haven’t a clue. I have owned it for 40 years and am ready to pass it on.

  3. This is ironic since some people of the upstate of South Carolina insist JC Calhoun actually fathered Abe LIncoln!

  4. […] De 1851 à 1853, trois sociétés opèrent dans le domaine de la retouche: la société héliographique (1851), photographic society (1851-1852) et la société française de la photographie en 1854. Dès 1860, le premier composite apparaît avec le devenu célèbre portrait d’Abraham Lincoln et de John Calhoun qu’on attribue à Thomas Hicks. […]

  5. I have one of these portraits. I found it about 40 years ago in the attic of an old building I was helping renovate. Anybody out there have any idea what it might be worth?

  6. I have a Lincoln print about 20″ x 24″. About 30 yrs ago, I took it to the Minneapolis Art Institute where they were doing free assessments of items. They did not do appraisals but did give information about the items. The curator there told me mine is a steel engraving made about the time of Lincoln’s death. I also found information in several books from the library with info about Lincoln prints and discovered the Lincoln Museum in Ft. Wayne, IN. We visited the museum and got more info about this print. The area around Calhoun’s head was filled in on the steel plate and re-carved in Lincoln’s image. They also changed the wording on the documents and books but I think the old words partially showed through.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s