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Painting Captures Moments after Lincoln's Assassination

Marta Brassfield, one of the Senior Painting Conservators with Olin Conservation, Inc., uses a fine brush to inpaint damaged areas of “Borne by Loving Hands,” a painting by German artist Carl Bersch that captures the aftermath of President Abraham Lincoln
Marta Brassfield, one of the Senior Painting Conservators with Olin Conservation, Inc., uses a fine brush to inpaint damaged areas of “Borne by Loving Hands,” a painting by German artist Carl Bersch that captures the aftermath of President Abraham Lincoln
Painting Captures Moments After Lincolns Assassination
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A rare painting showing the moments after U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated has been cleaned, repaired and restored.

The oil painting is named “Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands.”

German artist Carl Bersch witnessed the scene outside Ford's Theatre the night of April 14, 1865. As a group of men carried Lincoln out of the theater, Bersch drew the scene as he sat on a porch near the theater.

Bersch later developed the drawing into his painting.

It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the historic evening.

Lincoln was shot while watching a play at the theater. The wounded president was carried to the Petersen boarding house across the street. He died the following morning.

The painting looks back at the moment Lincoln was carried across the street.

Lincoln’s beard is visible. A woman's face shows her horror. Around her a crowd has gathered, their faces lit by the glow of a street light. American flags and red, white and blue banners hang from balconies and the street light poles. A man and a child look out an upstairs window.

The painting is owned by the U.S. National Park Service. It has a large collection of artwork and artifacts of historic and cultural importance.

Laura Anderson is the museum curator with the National Park Service at Ford’s Theatre. She said Bersch was initially sketching a parade on the street that night, celebrating the end of the American Civil War. But his attention was soon drawn to the dramatic event unfolding before his eyes.

Anderson said Bersch “knew immediately it was a momentous scene that he was witnessing as he saw the president carried out onto the street."

The painting is more than 150 years old. The painting has undergone several restorations. Some restorations did not properly clean, repair and restore the painting.

The Park Service asked David Olin to clean, repair and restore the painting. Olin is a conservator. A conservator is a person who protects and cares for artwork. He and his team spent about six months restoring the painting.

The first phase was to clean the painting. The restorers removed the previous layers without damaging the original content.

The second phase was doing structural repair. The third phase involved painting preexisting areas that were damaged or aged.

“So the objective, once the painting is cleaned and stabilized, is to bring back the artist's intent,” Olin said.

In almost 30 years of doing art conservation, “I have never seen a rendering of the event that took place outside of Ford's Theatre, recalling and capturing the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination," said Olin. "So to me, it's a very unique painting.”

Olin says he was excited "by the way that Carl Bersch captured not only Lincoln being carried out, but Lincoln is a very small part of the overall design."

"I think the artist has really captured what was going on ... the impact it had on the nation, with the activity in the background and the very dark, strong shadows," he explained.

Tamara Luzeckyj, one of the team members who worked on the painting, was pleased with the final result.

“We’ve removed everything that's been obscuring that [painting] over the past hundred-something years,” she said.

The artwork now hangs in the Ford’s Theatre museum, near the site where President Lincoln was assassinated.

Anderson hopes that when visitors see the painting, they will think about what happened that night at Ford's Theatre.

Anderson said: "It was a momentous occasion. It was the first time a president was assassinated; there was a peaceful transfer of power, and it was a very sad event and it was clearly felt by the artist who painted this painting.”

Many regard Lincoln as one of America’s greatest and most-liked presidents.

I’m Anne Ball.

And I’m Bryan Lynn.

Julie Taboh wrote the story for VOA News. Jim Dresbach adapted her report for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

assassinationn. the act of killing someone, such as a famous or important person usually for political reasons

porchn. a structure attached to the entrance of a building that has a roof and that may or may not have walls

horrorn. a very strong feeling of fear, dread and shock

glown. a soft and steady light

bannersn. large strips of cloth with a design, picture or writing on it

balconiesn. raised platforms that are connected to the side of a building and surrounded by a low wall or railing

artifactsn. simple objects, such as tools or weapons, that were made by people in the past

curatorn. a person who is in charge of the things in a museum

restorationn. the act or process of returning something to its original condition by repairing it and cleaning it

renderingn. a description, explanation or translation