By Erin A. C. Mast
Jes W. Schlaikjer was an official artist for the U.S. government and well known painter of portraits and historic scenes in the mid 1900s. A great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, Schlaikjer determined to paint a historical scene of Lincoln toiling on the Emancipation Proclamation one evening in September 1862 at the Soldiers’ Home. While he painted this scene from his imagination, Schlaikjer was inspired to paint the scene after discovering Lincoln was known to have carried notes and jottings for the document to and from the Soldiers’ Home.
Schlaikjer took great pains to ensure the details of the scene were historically accurate. Correspondence between the artist and the Chicago Historical Society in March 1957 reveals the level of detail Schlaikjer sought and received, from Lincoln’s iconic top hat down to the delicate beading and stitching of “A” and “L” on the tongue of each of his moccasins. These items and others in the painting are still preserved by various museums and collectors today.
When Schlaikjer finished, the painting was unveiled in the rotunda of the Senate Office Building for the Lincoln sesquicentennial in 1959. At the unveiling, Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky remarked, “This unusual painting shows Lincoln at one of the critical moments of his life, preparing a document which created a major social revolution. The painting has captured the simple dignity, the solemn earnestness and determination of President Lincoln just before the battle of Antietam.” The painting was then loaned for three months, eventually making its way back to the artist.
To this day, Schlaikjer’s painting remains one of the few artistic depictions of Lincoln working on the Emancipation Proclamation at the Soldiers’ Home.
Ms. Mast is the Curator at President Lincoln’s Cottage“Abraham Lincoln Writing the Emancipation Proclamation” is on view in the “My Abraham Lincoln” exhibit located
in the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center for President Lincoln’s Cottage. You may view the exhibit during
regular visitor hours through December 31, 2009.