Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mrs. Lincoln, I Presume? Well, as It Turns Out ...

You might have missed this one, but it's an interesting article on authentication and hoaxes.

"For 32 years, a portrait of a serene Mary Todd Lincoln hung in the governor’s mansion in Springfield, Ill., signed by Francis Bicknell Carpenter, a celebrated painter who lived at the White House for six months in 1864.

The story behind the picture was compelling: Mrs. Lincoln had Mr. Carpenter secretly paint her portrait as a surprise for the president, but he was assassinated before she had a chance to present it to him.

Now it turns out that both the portrait and the touching tale accompanying it are false.

The canvas, which was purchased by Abraham Lincoln’s descendants before being donated to the state’s historical library in the 1970s, was discovered to be a hoax when it was sent to a conservator for cleaning, said James M. Cornelius, the curator of the Lincoln library and museum in Springfield. The museum is planning to present its findings at a lecture on April 26.

“It was a scam to defraud the Lincoln family,” Mr. Cornelius said.

The Lincolns were not the only ones fooled. Ever since The New York Times announced the portrait’s discovery in 1929, on Feb. 12, Lincoln’s birthday, historians and the public have assumed it depicted Mary Todd Lincoln. It was reproduced in The Chicago Tribune and National Geographic, and versions of it still illustrate at least two biographies, including the latest paperback edition of Carl Sandburg’s 1932 “Mary Lincoln: Wife and Widow.”

In reality, the painting depicts an unknown woman and was created by an anonymous 19th-century artist, said Barry Bauman, the independent conservator who uncovered the fraud. The con, however, dates to the late 1920s, when the portrait was recast as that of Mrs. Lincoln, he said.

Mr. Bauman identifies the culprit behind the scam as Ludwig Pflum, who rechristened himself Lew Bloom and was given to the kind of self-invention that America became famous for during the industrial era. He worked as a jockey, circus clown, boxer and vaudevillian before settling on art collecting.

When he died less than a year after the painting’s public unveiling, an obituary in a Reading, Pa., newspaper noted that he “dabbled in oil paintings.” Apparently he dabbled more than anyone at the time realized ..."

Click here to keep reading the article.

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