Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Lincoln-Calhoun Composite

with 11 comments

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”.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 24, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Posted in Politics

Tagged with ,

11 Responses

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  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.


    April 25, 2010 at 10:30 pm

  2. Iconic and Ironic


    April 29, 2010 at 1:55 pm



    May 1, 2010 at 8:59 am



    May 1, 2010 at 9:08 am

  5. Chill out, a. This is a jerk-free site.


    May 1, 2010 at 3:20 pm

  6. The fast red wolf jumped over the lazy dog


    September 4, 2012 at 9:15 am

  7. 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: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003679757/ . 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 – http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003654314/ . 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 – http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/brh2003004601/PP/.

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

    Sara W. Duke

    November 20, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    • 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).


      February 25, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    • 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.

      Joe Ryan

      August 17, 2016 at 10:37 pm

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

    Robin Hillyer Miles

    January 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm

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