College Article Review on Lincoln From Life

Title and Author

Lincoln from life written by Lloyd Ostendorf

Date of issue

The article in the American Heritage Magazine March 1990, volume 41, issue 2

Page numbers

The article is a web version, link:

Introduction and thesis statement

            The article by Ostendorf examines uncovered previously unknown portraits of Abraham Lincoln.  The article explains that the beardless portrait of Lincoln is possibly the first ever portrait of Lincoln.  There is information on the life of Abraham Lincoln before being nominated for presidency. The focus of the article is tracing the origin of the portraits and how they came to be.

Brief summary

            The article in this case examines two discovered portraits of Abraham Lincoln, one in which Lincoln is beardless, and another in which he is bearded.  The beardless painting of Abraham Lincoln is shown to be a painting before Abraham Lincoln was nominated for presidency.  Paintings and portraits of Abraham Lincoln were documented well, but in this instance, there is no documentation about the discovered portraits.  Questioning of the authenticity and the origin of the portraits of Lincoln forms the predominant content in the article, aiming to prove that the beardless portrait was Lincoln’s first portrait.  The beardless portrait in this case is a piece from 1856, while the second portrait is for 1860 after nomination of Lincoln for presidency.

The life of Abraham Lincoln was in the public domain, and historical literature documents issues such as paintings, but only after Lincoln was nominated for presidency (Ostendorf, 1977). The 1856 portrait in this case is attributed to a painter, Philip Jenkins, who was found on a farm in Illinois.  The article focuses on solving the mystery surrounding the portraits of Abraham Lincoln painted by Philip Jenkins in 1856 and 1860 respectively.  The relationship between Philip Jenkins and Abraham is a mystery, and solving it shows the origin of the portrait and the reason for painting.  This article shows the possibility of the 1856 portrait by Jenkins to be not only a possible campaign portrait, but arguably the first portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

Trailing back the possible reasons why the portraits discovered were not documented gives insight on the possible reasons the portraits were made.  Another crucial issue of consideration in this case is whether the beardless portrait of Abraham Lincoln was drawn from a sitting, or copied from an existing photograph.  The discovery of the portraits developed the need of reviewing the life of Abraham Lincoln before ascendance to prominent political scenes.  The article gives profound information on the life of the artist, Philip Jenkins, showing that that between 1850 and 1860, he was already an artist.  Searching the works of Jenkins in museums led to development of reasonable clues and relevant information.

A letter by Jenkins to the secretary of treasury, Bristow, inviting him for a sitting for a painting gave clues of a possibility that Jenkins did the same with Abraham Lincoln.  Some of the prominent painting works by Jenkins in this case include the 1868 painting of John Warner, and the 1874 painting of Benjamin Helm Bristow.  Ostendorf (1990) gives information that focuses on describing the possible relationship between Abraham Lincoln, and Philip Jenkins so as to know the reason behind Lincoln’s first portrait.

Analysis of the beardless portrait of Lincoln showed that it was the source of the other portrait.  Upon keen analysis, the inscriptions Dr. P.O Jenkins/Pinxit/May 1856 were found on the beardless portrait.  The quality of the portrait emphasizes that it was a sitting, not a copied photograph. There is also a high chance that Jenkins approached Lincoln for a request to paint his portrait as a way to advertise his art and business by attracting clients.  Lincoln grew beards after November 1860; therefore, this proves that the portrait was painted prior to nomination for presidency.

Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, and Jenkins also lived in the same region (Kellogg, 2003). The first painting depicted Abraham Lincoln, a lawyer and a citizen, and might have come up after a meeting Jenkins in the course of his regional visits. The failure of documentation of portraits of Lincoln by Jenkins could be because the portraits were for the purpose of attracting clients for Jenkins’ business (Ostendorf, 1990).  The discovery of undocumented portraits of Abraham Lincoln acts as a motive for new research on the life of Abraham Lincoln before nomination to presidency (Ostendorf, 1977).  The 1856 beardless portrait of Abraham Lincoln, painted by Philip Jenkins in a live sitting is arguably the first ever portrait of Lincoln.  Abraham Lincoln spent a lot of time in May 1856 in Central Illinois, and so did Philip Jenkins.  The contact between Jenkins and the secretary of treasury shows that it is more likely that Jenkins invited Lincoln for painting, rather than Lincoln inviting Jenkins (Ostendorf, 1990). 


            The article uses evidence to back up claims of the reasons why the discovered portraits were not documented.  The use of a letter by Jenkins written to the secretary of treasury in this case is reliable and valid evidence that supports the thesis.  The evidence in the article also shows that Lincoln spent most of May 1856 in Central Illinois, and so did Philip Jenkins.


            The evidence used in this case is persuasive, specifically showing that the beardless portrait was painted from a live sitting by Philip Jenkins.  Portrait inscriptions show that Jenkins was indeed the painter, and that the portrait was after 1856.  The author of the article successfully shows that the portrait is the first portrait of Abraham Lincoln by showing no documented Portrait before that.  The reason to justify the failure of documentation of the portraits by Jenkins shows that the portraits belonged to Jenkins, not Abraham Lincoln.

The letter written by Jenkins to Benjamin Helm Bristow is persuasive enough that the artist invited Lincoln to a sitting for painting.  Establishment of information on the possible relationship and contact between Lincoln and the artists persuasively shows Kentucky, and Central Illinois as possible meeting points and links.  The two discovered portraits that form the basis of the article were different in the sense that in one, Lincoln was beardless, and bearded in the other.

The bearded portrait is shown to have originated from the beardless portrait that was made in 1856 before Lincoln was nominated for presidency.  The article uses historical evidence objectively, for example, reference, to other works of Philip Jenkins in tracing the possible origin of discovered portraits.  Use of census records between 1850 and 1860 adds credible information to the article because records show that Jenkins was an artist.   Lincoln was painted in many sittings by different artists, and such events were documented.  Ostendorf (2010) objectively shows that the failure of documentation in this case is because the artist was the one who invited Lincoln rather than the other way round.