Francis Bicknell Carpenter was born on August 6, 1830 in Homer, New York. He received his first training as an artist in 1844 when he studied with Sanford Thayer of Syracuse, New York. In 1851 he moved to New York City, where he was given his first important commission -- a full-length portrait of the banker David Leavitt. Shortly thereafter he traveled to Washington, D.C., to paint President Millard Fillmore. This marked the beginning of great success for Carpenter in that city. He painted President Franklin Pierce shortly after his inauguration and later produced portraits of several senators.
His most famous effort, The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, 1864, was exhibited in several cities in the United States before being placed on view in the House wing of the Capitol in 1878 (the painting now hangs in the west stairwell of the Senate wing). Carpenter had created the large historical piece in the White House, under the watchful eye of President Lincoln, and published his reminiscences of this time in a book titled Six Months in the White House. The account of life with the President was sufficiently popular to be reprinted sixteen times between 1866 and 1883. The artist painted several other images of Lincoln (some posthumous), and Lincoln with his family and colleagues during the 1860s.
Carpenter was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1853 and continued to exhibit there until 1896. He died in New York City in 1900. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
"Frank Bicknell Carpenter: Phrenological Character and Biography." American Phrenological Journal 28 (September 1858): 1-4.
DAB, 1943, 3:510.
"Frank Bicknell Carpenter 1830-1900." Bulletin of the Cortland County Historical Society 3 (September 1949): 5, 7.
Holzer, Harold, Gabor S. Boritt, and Mark E. Neely, Jr. "Francis Bicknell Carpenter (1830-1900): Painter of Abraham Lincoln and His Circle." AmArtJ 16 (Spring 1984): 68-89.
Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 48-49.