A self-trained artist born in Boston, George Peter Alexander Healy enjoyed moderate success as a painter in New England before traveling to Europe to study and seek commissions. He lived in both Paris and London, developing a style of portraiture that emphasized fine draftsmanship, naturalistic coloring, and a smooth, finished surface—all visible in this representation of Abraham Lincoln. The pinnacle of Healy's success abroad was a commission from French king Louis-Philippe to return to paint likenesses of distinguished American statesmen, an endeavor cut short by the French Revolution of 1848 and subsequent abdication of the king. In 1860, Chicago businessman and philanthropist Thomas B. Bryan purchased the works Healy had completed for the series, and commissioned the portrait of then president-elect Lincoln, an Illinois native son. Bryan planned to exhibit these works together in what he described as his "National Gallery," to be housed in the eponymous Bryan Music Hall in Chicago.
Although it lacks the iconic features that came to characterize Lincoln's visage in later portraits—his full beard, gaunt face, and pensive solemnity—this portrait is significant as the last painted depiction of Lincoln without a beard. The lines on Lincoln's forehead and jowls and the dark circles beneath his eyes hint at the demands of the election campaign and his impending service as president. Yet, as art collector and museum founder Duncan Phillips noted, "This is a happy Lincoln with a glint of the famous humor which was to mitigate his sorrows and his cares. . . . It is a disarmingly personal impression of the eyes of true greatness at a moment when they were lighted with the surprise, the honor, and the vision of supreme opportunity."
In addition to serving as the model for a 1959 postage stamp commemorating the sesquicentennial of Lincoln's birth, this portrait has hung in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the White House, and the Lincoln School in southeast Washington, DC.
center right: G.P.A Healy / 1860
Commissioned 1860 by Thomas B. Bryan [1828-1906], Chicago; purchased 1879 by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.
- Long-term loan, Lincoln School, Washington, 1926-1943.
- Mr. President: A Pictorial Parade of Presidents from Washington to Eisenhower, 1789-1956, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1956, no. 33.
- The American Vision: Paintings of Three Centuries: A Loan Exhibition Sponsored by Time, the Weekly Newsmagazine, for the Benefit of the American Federation of Arts, Wildenstein Gallery, New York, October-Novembber 1957, no. 10.
- The Bryan-Corcoran Collection of American Portraits, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, March-September 1957, no catalogue.
- American National Exhibition, Sokol'niki Park, Moscow, July-September 1959, unnumbered catalogue.
- Loan Exhibition. Masterpieces of the Corcoran Gallery of Art: A Benefit Exhibition in Honor of the Gallery's Centenary, Wildenstein, New York, January-March 1959, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- The American Muse: Parallel Trends in Literature and Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 4 April - 17 May 1959, no. 125.
- War, Peace, and Union, San Diego Museum of Art, 1960, no. 14.
- Past and Present: 250 Years of American Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1966, unpublished checklist.
- The Artist Sees Historic Illinois, Illinois State Museum, Springfield, 1967-1968, unnumbered catalogue.
- The Great Game of Politics, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1972, unpublished checklist.
- Loan to display at The White House, Washington, 1974.
- Corcoran [The American Genius]. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1976, unnumbered catalogue.
- The Body Politic: Portraits of American Presidents, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2004-2005, unpublished checklist.
- The American Evolution: A History through Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2008, unpublished checklist.
- Bold, Cautious, True: Walt Whitman and American Art of the Civil War Era, The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis; Katonah Museum of Art, New York, 2009-2010, no. 11.
- American Journeys: Visions of Place, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 21 September 2013-28 September 2014, unpublished checklist.
- Macleod, William. Catalogue of the Paintings, Statuary, Casts, Bronzes, &c. of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1882: 58, no. 111.
- Macleod, William. Catalogue of the Paintings, Statuary, Casts, Bronzes, &c. of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1887: 60, no. 111.
- Corcoran Gallery of Art. Handbook of the American Paintings in the Collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1947: 34.
- Corcoran Gallery of Art. Masterpieces of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1959: 51, repro.
- Cash, Sarah, with Terrie Sultan. American Treasures of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. New York, 2000: 67, repro.
- McLean, Randall. "George Peter Alexander Healy, Abraham Lincoln." In Corcoran Gallery of Art: American Paintings to 1945. Edited by Sarah Cash. Washington, 2011: 122-123, 264-265, repro.