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

June 7, 1854

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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

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      Background

      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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      Washington
      June 7, 1854
       
      My dear Sir
       
      Your letter in relation to the portraits of the five first Presidents was received last month, but I have been so occupied that I have not found leisure to give the subject a moments [sic] consideration -- Mr Webster will avail himself of an

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       early opportunity to bring the facts stated by you to the notice of the chairman of the committee of the House hearing the subject in charge --
       
      I trust, that you have seen Colo. Whipple and received from him my note and a check for $100 -- I feel of course a deep interest in the large picture to which you refer -- Was your visit to Hillsborough satisfactory? We have as I have before stated great satisfaction in the picture of our dear boy. Mrs. Pierce thinks you could improve it 

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      Page 3 transcript
      by retouching and I hope you may have an opportunity to make the trial tho' I would not ask you to come to Washington expressly for the purpose --
       
      I regard the picture by yourself as the only good likeness of me and hence as there have been so many wretched engravings I am very desirous that a perfect copy on stock should be taken from it -- Will you ascertain on what terms a plate for such an engraving can be obtained -- Please to write me on the receipt of this -
       
      Your Friend

      FRANK PIERCE
       
      F.  B, Carpenter Esq
      City of New York