Label Text: In the years following the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, America’s artists helped the country mourn and begin to heal. Eastman Johnson’s portrayal of Lincoln may have brought solace by invoking the quintessential American traits that Lincoln embodied—humility, hard work, self-reliance, and a desire for knowledge. This work presents a young Lincoln, who, like our country, glowed with future promise even in early years of hardship and darkness.
The future President sits alone in a dim cabin, lit only by firelight. The rustic hearth recalls a humble cabin of Lincoln’s youth and symbolizes the peaceful times of a nearly bygone era. Engrossed in his reading, the self-educated boy leans toward the modest hearth flame. The firelight both contributes to the realism of the painting and serves as a metaphor for enlightenment and learning.