Beginning in 1860, E.C. Middleton of Cincinnati began to publish a series of portraits of famous individuals, done with a chromolithographic process he developed which was intended to produce prints that looked like oil paintings.  By the time he got around to doing a portrait of Lincoln, as well as other Civil War period figures, his series of “National Oil Portraits” had achieved considerable popularity.  As a result a number of other publishers came out with “copycat” prints that tried to duplicate the success of the Middleton series.

The Middleton portraits had certain characteristics

  • They were “oleographs,” a chromolithographic process intended produce prints which looked like oil paintings
  • They were oval portraits about 17 x 14
  • They were issued in frames, usually fairly elaborate gilt frames
  • They were printed on paper, which was then mounted on canvas
  • They were stamped on the back with “Warranted Oil Colors”

The “copycat” portraits usually shared most, if not all, of these characteristics.

Middleton felt compelled to respond to these competitors, for in the March 1866 edition of the New York Tribute he put the following notice:

NOTICE–CAUTION!–Persons desiring the GENUINE MIDDLETON OIL PORTRAITS OF WASHINGTON, LINCOLN, GRANT, SHERMAN and others, are hereby notified that IMITATIONS of these Portraits are represented as the Originals.  E.C. Middleton being the originator of these Oil Portraits, his name or that of E.C. Middleton & Co., will be found upon the back of the canvas of each Portrait.  None others are the genuine MIDDLETON OIL PORTRAITS.

The imitation portraits vary considerably in quality, with some being of comparable quality and others quite crude, but none of them seem to have been very successful.  The most common subjects copied were Lincoln and the two Washingtons, and there is little evidence that any of the publishers did many more if any than this.  All of the copycat prints seem to be scarcer than the Middleton portraits.

[ Bennett, Donaldson & ElmesLepine & Co | Middleton, Strobridge & Co. | Smith & MurrayWynkoop & Co. | Unknown publisher ]

Bennett, Donaldson & Elmes

In 1866, the Philadelphia lithographic firm of Bennett, Donaldson & Elmes issued a series of “Chrome Oil Portraits” which were advertised with similar phrases to those used by Middleton. They were claimed to be “executed in substantial oil colors, of cabinet or half life [sic] size, on canvass and oval stretcher, in handsomely ornamented gilt frames.”

In the Lexington Observer and Reporter of March 17, 1866, the firm listed an advertisement seeking agents

to canvas the States of Kentucky and Tennessee for Bennett, Donaldson & Elmes’ CHROME OIL PORTRAITS OF WASHINGTON and MARTH WASHINTON, GENS. R.E. LEE and STONEWALL JACKSON.

Lepine & Co

In 1866, New York publisher Lepine & Co. listed itself as “Publishers of Oil Portraits.” The firm, owned by E.H. Lepine, issued a series of “Lepine’s National Oil Portraits.” It produced at least one portrait of Lincoln and one of Robert E. Lee, the latter being marked on the back “published by E.H. Lipine [sic] for A.L. Scovill, New York.”

Lepine & Co Abraham Lincoln
Lepine & Co Abraham Lincoln
Lepine & Co Lincoln label
Lepine & Co Lincoln label

 

E.H. Lepine Robert E Lee
E.H. Lepine Robert E Lee
E.H. Lepine Lee label
E.H. Lepine Lee label

Middleton, Strobridge & Co.

Middleton, Strobridge & Co was a firm formed by E.C. Middleton and Hines Strobridge in 1858.  This business continued, with the same name, until 1866, but Middleton had actually left the firm in October 1861.  Middleton left to set up his own business, specifically to produce his “National Oil Portraits.”   Part of the agreement between Strobridge and Middleton was that Strobridge could continue with the same name, and another part dictated that Strobridge could not produce any portraits of the type which Middleton would thereafter be making.

Middleton, Strobridge & Co Abraham Lincoln
Middleton, Strobridge & Co Abraham Lincoln
Middleton, Strobridge & Co Lincoln label
Middleton, Strobridge & Co Lincoln label

This latter agreement was followed by Strobridge until about 1866, when Middleton, Strobridge & Co. produced at least two copycat portraits, one of Lincoln and one of Grant.  So why did Strobridge break the agreement at that time?  It is likely because Strobridge felt that Middleton had already gone back on the agreement.

Middleton, Strobridge & Co U.S. Grant
Middleton, Strobridge & Co U.S. Grant
Middleton, Strobridge & Co Grant label
Middleton, Strobridge & Co Grant label

In the original agreement of separation, Middleton had committed to using Middleton, Strobridge & Co. to actually produce the portraits he would be publishing.  These were drawn by Thomas Bising, who worked as a lithographic artist for Middleton, Strobridge & Co.  However, in 1866, Thomas Bising left Strobridge’s company and became a partner to Middleton in his firm.

Middleton likely considered this a breach of the agreement, so that he then felt free to issue competing prints to those by Middleton.  No other similar prints than those of Lincoln and Grant are known, and those a very rare, so it is likely that Strobridge found this market not terribly profitable and that he soon dropped these prints from his production.

Smith & Murray

 

Smith & Murray Lincoln
Smith & Murray Lincoln
Smith & Murray label
Smith & Murray Label

In 1867, J.S. Smith and Thomas M. Murray formed a partnership, Smith & Murry, listed as “picture dealers.” In an advertisement the following year, they wrote: “We call attention of the public to our series of chromo oil portraits of distinguished Americans.”  This included the typical portrait of Lincoln, and also the Washington pair.

J Smith George and Martha Washington
J Smith George and Martha Washington
J Smith label
J Smith label

The George and Martha prints are copyrighted to J. Smith in 1867, so it seems that Smith may have started the series of “chromo oil portaits” before Murray joined him.

In The Louisville Courier, November 25, 1867, they advertised for an agent “to sell chromo oil portraits of the Confederate officers, R.E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jo. E. Johnson, and Jefferson Davis,” so they were going after the same southern market which Middleton was trying to develop.  They label lists them as being located in Cincinnati, but the advertisement for the agent shows they at least had an office in Louisville.

Wynkoop & Co.

The Wynkoop & Co. firm out of Philadelphia produced a portrait Lincoln and a pair of prints of the Washingtons.  On the back of the canvas, the phrase “Warranted Oil Colors” is used, but Wynkoop & Co. also called its prints “Photo Chromatic Portraits.”

We have found no other portraits done by this company, nor any other prints, though there were a number of Philadelphia lithographers of the Wynkoop family.

 

Wynkoop Abraham Lincoln
Wynkoop & Co Abraham Lincoln

Wynkoop & Co Lincoln label

Wynkoop & Co George Washington
Wynkoop & Co George Washington

 

Wynkoop & Co Martha Washington
Wynkoop & Co Martha Washington

Unknown Publisher

Prints of the same type have turned up from time to time without any publisher information stamped on the verso.

Unknown publisher's U.S. Grant
Unknown publisher’s U.S. Grant

The print above is in the collections of the Library of Congress [ Click to see LC entry ].  It is tentatively identified as a E.C. Middleton print, but there is no stamp on the verso and no reason to believe it was published by E.C. Middleton other than its similarity to the Middleton prints.