BIDDERS FACE OFF FOR LINCOLN LIFE MASK AT BONHAMS
Lincoln life mask from the collection of Lloyd Ostendorf sold for $93,250. Photo courtesy of Bonhams and Butterfields.
After an hour, the plaster cast was removed from Abraham Lincoln’s face in one complete piece. The fine hairs around the future president’s temples
also stuck to the plaster.
Lincoln’s eyes watered. He said the whole process of sitting to have a statue made of him was anything but agreeable.
The sculptor, Leonard Volk met Lincoln for the first time when he was running for the U.S. Senate in 1858. He asked Lincoln then to sit for a bust.
It would be two more years before Lincoln finally climbed the five stories up to Volk’s Chicago studio. By then Lincoln had been nominated for president.
The sculptor took measurements of his head, shoulders and face to reduce the number of sittings. Then he made the plaster cast of Lincoln.
To Volk’s surprise, Lincoln talked little of politics during those sittings. “I’m bored nearly every time I sit down to a public dining-table by some one pitching into me, on politics,” Lincoln said.
Instead, Lincoln joked and kept the conversation light.
Almost every Lincoln sculptor and artist throughout history has used Volk’s life mask of Lincoln. Much more powerful than a photograph, it’s Lincoln’s actual form.
Folklore tells of a death mask made of Lincoln after his assassination. It never happened.
Lincoln sat for two life masks. Volk’s was the first. The second was done in 1865 two months before Lincoln’s assassination in Washington, D.C. by Clark Mills.
Mill’s process was different. He began by applying oil to Lincoln’s face, followed by a thin coat of wet plaster. In 15 minutes the plaster was dry.
Mills then asked Lincoln to twitch his face. The plaster loosened, falling in large segments into a cloth. The pieces were then reassembled to form the finished mask.
When the famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ saw the second mask he was convinced it was cast from Lincoln’s corpse. He was wrong.
“The first (mask) is a man of 51, and young for his years,” Saint-Gaudens said. “The large mobile mouth is ready to speak, to shout, or laugh…The other (mask) is so sad…A look as of one on whom sorrow and care had done their worst without victory is on all the features.”
Dramatic aging in the second mask. Lincoln bore the tragedy of the Civil War on his face. A friend who saw him a few weeks after the mask was made said he “looked badly and also felt badly.”
To another friend Lincoln confided, “I am very unwell.”
There were at least two plaster castings of the Mill’s mask. The one offered for sale in the Nov. 23, Bonhams & Butterfields auction in California was considered the best by some scholars because of its greater detail.
The life mask came from the collection of Lincoln scholar, Lloyd Ostendorf and sold for $93,250. Ostendorf called it one of the “jewels” of his collection.
The collector passed away in 2000 and much of his Lincolniana collection went on the block at Bonhams & Butterfields.
Here are some current values for other Lincoln lots sold in the sale.
Funeral Broadside; President Lincoln; announces day of mourning; April 18, 1865; 13 1/2 inches by 18 7/8 inches; $3,231.
Lock of Hair; 40-60 strands; 3 inches long; together with reprint Lincoln photo; taken after assassination; $10,575.
Photograph; albumen print; Second Inauguration; Lincoln speaking; probably by Alexander Gardner; March 4, 1865; 8 7/8 inches by 6 5/8 inches; $16,450.
Photograph; albumen print; full body portrait; Lincoln seated; taken by Alexander Gardner; Aug. 9, 1863; 15 1/8 inches by 18 7/8 inches; $99,000.
Photograph; albumen print; Lincoln and son Tad; taken by Anthony Berger; signed; 3 3/4 inches by 5 3/8 inches; $99,000.
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