One of the great things about antique historical prints is that they give us a unique view of how people in the past viewed their own time. Prints reflected the opinions of their makers, but as they were usually produced with the intent of either influencing public opinion or at least making money by fitting the public’s opinions enough to sell well, they also often reflect popular attitudes towards their subjects. This is, naturally, very true of prints of American presidents.
When Washington died, the nation mourned deeply and contemporary prints were issued showing the sorrow of the country,
and others showed Washington rising to heaven to his place of immortality.
After his assassination, Abraham Lincoln achieved a similar heroic place in the nation’s heart, which led to the production of many, many noble portraits of Lincoln which hung in thousands of homes around the country. A good example of this are the portraits of Lincoln issued by E.C. Middleton, about which I wrote in an earlier blog.
One way that printmakers showed Lincoln’s character as one of the “great” presidents was to associate him with the clearly “great” George Washington. Currier & Ives issued this fun print showing the two presidents shaking hands,
By being inaugurated into the nation’s top office, each president achieves at least the status of membership in this august body and this is shown in the many prints which show all the presidents together. The importance of these men (still) was often emphasized by a prominent depiction of the noble Washington, standing, as it were, at the head of this fellowship.