Sunday, August 28, 2011

Anonymous Comment Leads to New Information About Pasadena's Lost Lincoln Portrait

President Abraham Lincoln by William F. Cogswell
White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

Three years ago I posted a short biography of East Pasadena pioneer and famous artist, William F. Cogswell.   I followed that with a post titled Mystery of the Missing Lincoln Portrait.  You see, Cogswell had bestowed upon the City of Pasadena a replica of his most famous work -- the official White House portrait of President Abraham Lincoln -- but the City had somehow lost the painting.   Just what happened to the painting is a mystery.  

Since the post, I've pursued the mystery with others.   Sure, some know about the missing Lincoln portrait.  But, no one has any theories about what happened.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I received an anonymous comment to my three-year old post.   Anonymous reported that the Albion Castle in San Francisco has a replica of Cogswell's famous Lincoln portrait.   Turns out Anonymous is right.   I found photos of the Lincoln portrait hanging in the Albion Castle at flicker and foundsf.   And, the portrait sure seems like a replica of the White House original (above).  

The Albion Castle was home to a less than successful brewery and seems an odd place for a Lincoln portrait.  Could  this be Pasadena's missing Lincoln?  Anonymous -- What do you think?

I reviewed my records and poked around the Internet to see if I could learn anything new about Cogswell's Lincoln portraits.   How many replicas were out there?  Certainly Cogswell was an enterprising guy and I knew he painted replicas of his famous Lincoln portrait for the Hawaiian Royal Palace, the California State Legislature and City of Pasadena.   Were there more?
It is hard to know how many Lincoln replicas Cogswell painted.   The Pasadena PL has a 1961 letter from the Library of Congress stating that there were no records of Cogswell's Lincoln portraits.   A 1932 LA Times article stated, without source, that Cogswell painted 13 Lincoln replicas for states and three additional replicas for individuals.   But, I doubt the report.   If there were really 16 replicas, it seems like I could locate more than three with a basic Internet search.   Plus, Cogswell was a busy guy.  Seems unlikely he would take time to do 16 replicas.      

So, is Pasadena's Lincoln hanging in the Albion Castle?   Yeah, I'd like to know how the castle acquired the painting.  It could be our painting.

But, it is going to be hard for Pasadena to point much of an accusing finger.   You see, Pasadena has a pretty strong track record of misplacing this painting.

We know from Cogswell's obituary in the Evening Star that, as of 1903, a replica of Cogswell's famous Lincoln portrait hung in the Pasadena Public Library.
But, we also know the painting was later removed from the library walls and placed in storage.  Seems the library had trouble finding a suitable place for the life-sized portrait of the 6"4" tall Great Emancipator.       

Then, a February 7, 1932 LA Times article reported the painting had been found.  The article, titled "Rare Lincoln Portrait Found -- Rare Oil Painting Discovered in Pasadena," reported that the portrait had been found in the library's storage loft.    The article stated the painting was in perfect condition and in a heavy gold frame.   The article announced that the painting would be displayed at the opening of the new Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
A 1961 letter from the Pasadena PL states that the Lincoln portrait was in the collection of Pasadena Historical Society.    That is the last word I've found on the whereabouts of Pasadena's Lincoln portrait.

Now, the painting is lost again.

Hard to say how you misplace a life sized portrait of Honest Abe.  But, Pasadena has managed to lose the portrait not once, but twice.   My guess is the portrait is not hanging in the Albion, but probably still somewhere in the city.    Maybe it is stacked in storage or hanging on a dark wall.  But, most likely it is here --- waiting to be discovered yet again.


Pasadena Adjacent said...

Amused and not the least bit surprised. Actually, the city of Pasadena has lost/misplaced the painted study of one of my works. Also partner Mr V is currently in communication with the State of California Arts Council, who has not only lost his 8' x 40 ft painting but also a 4500 sculpture by a well known contemporary sculptor. It's all about storage (between renovation/changing departments/changing department managers/changing tastes) etc. Smaller works could be attributed to theft. Only a few years ago the City of Hope discovered a forgotten Philup Guston on their property

Petrea Burchard said...

I'm really sorry to hear that, PA. You'd think we were living in the 19th century and not the 21st, with computers and UPC codes and such.

Such an odd little mystery, Michael. I hope you're the one to track it down.

Michael Coppess said...

Wow. I am really shocked that substantial pieces of art could be lost like that. Makes me wonder just what the city has in storage.

Cafe Pasadena said...

No surprise important items can be lost. Or just placed in a position to be misplaced, "lost", or just stolen!

I'm not sure why you don't think the painting isn't in the Castle? What evidence do you pro/con for the castle holding it?

I look 4ward to your continued investigation. Btw, you may want to ask the Getty if they ever came across this artwork!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I was talking to a guy at a party a few years back who works for Museum of Natural History. Told me that they had discovered something like the skeletal remains of a sperm whale in some south central warehouse. There is crap stored all over the city that's been lost.