[Abraham Lincoln] Cincinnati: Elijah C. Middleton, 1864. Chromolithograph (“Warranted Oil Colors.”) 17 1/4 x 14 (oval). Paper mounted on canvas, as issued. Original maker’s stamp on verso. In original frame. Old water stain at right. Else, very good condition. Holzer, Borritt, Neely: 148
Elijah C. Middleton is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of chromolithography in America. Establishing his engraving firm in Cincinnati at mid-nineteenth-century, Middleton’s business benefited from the city’s prime location along routes of westward migration. As the city grew, so did a market for printed material—including chromolithographs. Middleton and his partner, W.R. Wallace, ventured from engraving into chromolithography and produced the oldest surviving chromolithograph from Cincinnati. Their partnership became the basis for chromo-publishing giant Strobridge & Company, which competed with Ehrgott & Forbriger for prominence in the Cincinnati and Midwestern print markets.
Shortly after Hines Strobridge joined Middleton and Wallace in partnership, Middleton struck out on his own in 1861, advertising his own gallery of printed portraits made with “warranted oil-colors.” Between 1861 and 1873, Middleton produced chromolithographed portraits of seventeen different subjects, including thirteen American political and military figures, forming what came to be known as “Middleton’s National Portrait Gallery.” Middleton’s portraits gained national attention, and as far away as Philadelphia, lithography giant P.S. Duval commented on Middleton as his competition.
This is the most important portrait from the Middleton National Portrait Gallery. Middleton was very concerned to make his prints as accurate as possible, so he sent a letter to Middleton with a copy of the first state of his print asking for comments. He received in return a letter from Lincoln with both compliment and critique. Middleton seemed to take this to heart, for he improved the image considerably; the resulting portrait is the only instance in which Lincoln is known to have advised the artist. Middleton promoted his portraits as close copies of paintings: “all these so far as the eye is concerned, are first class oil paintings, true to life in color, complexion &c.” His portraits are probably the prints in this country where a specific attempt was made to duplicate oil paintings; Middleton was very proud of his development of the use of the “Warranted Oil Colors.” The appearance of this print is excellent proof that Middleton had much to be proud of.