June 07, 1854

Franklin Pierce on His Favorite Portrait of Himself, That of His Dead Son, and Those of the First Five Presidents

Autograph Letter Signed
4 pages
SMC 962
Pierce has received Carpenter’s letter “in relation to the portraits of the five first Presidents” but hasn’t had time to give the matter his consideration. His secretary, Webster, will bring the facts stated by Carpenter to the notice of the Chairman of the House Committee hearing the subject. Pierce expresses deep interest in “the large picture to which you refer," inquires about Carpenter’s visit to the Pierce homestead, and comments again, he notes, on the great satisfaction he and Mrs. Pierce take in Carpenter’s portrait of his dead son – painted from a daguerreotype following the boy’s tragic death in 1853. Mrs. Pierce, however, believes it could be improved by re-touching. Pierce closes with a discussion of Carpenter’s portrait of himself (now lost): he regards the picture “as the only good likeness” and “as there have been so many wretched engravings” desires “that a perfect copy or State should be taken from it.” 

Carpenter, who is best remembered for his epic fifteen-foot wide depiction of Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet (“First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln”), also did other Lincoln portraits: of the President alone, with Tad, and a group portrait of the family. These were not his first presidential portraits, however, but his last. In 1852, he had painted Millard Fillmore, and then was commissioned to paint Presidents Pierce and Tyler – both, apparently, in the White House. His painting of Lincoln caused him to virtually take up residence in the White House State Dining Room – a sojourn about which he wrote a book, Six Months at the White House, which famously went into sixteen editions (called, after 1868, The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln). 
Autograph Letter Signed, as President, 3 pages, recto and verso, quarto, Washington, June 7, 1854. To Francis Bicknell Carpenter.
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