For Students

Eastman Johnson
United States, 1824–1906
Boyhood of Lincoln, 1868
Oil on canvas
Bequest of Henry C. Lewis, 1895.90

Open Art Pick  
Michigan Leader's Comments
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UMMA Art Pick: Comments 1

Mary Sue Coleman
President, University of Michigan

Eastman Johnson is an appealing artist because he chose subjects that depicted ordinary life in 19th century America. With an unflinching view, he often created ground-breaking works or explored themes such as the consequences of slavery, that retain emotional power today. This painting of the boyhood Lincoln (completed three years after his assassination), is evocative of the plain upbringing of our union's savior and illustrates how visual art of the time did influence public perception of the slain president as a national icon. The quality of light captured in Johnson's painting style draws me into this wonderful scene and makes me pause to reflect on the life of the man it depicts.

Sandor Slomovits
The performing duo Gemini

My pick is Eastman Johnson's Boyhood of Lincoln for a variety of reasons. Lincoln, complicated though he and his views were, has always been a hero to me, and I've been thinking of him even more than usual of late, both because of the 200th anniversary of his birth and President Obama's election.

I also love the painting for how it depicts a young reader who loves books so much, he reads even by firelight. I have a young reader like that in my house. Finally, I love the painting itself, especially for that glow from the fireplace—real light, as well as the light of knowledge and enlightenment.


James Barritt

Adam Ann Arbor, MI


I have loved this picture for many, many years-it just feels so warm and comfortable. I look for it each time I visit.

Kathy Bovenschen Milan, MI

A melding of my favorite things: reading, warmth, history, old houses.

Emily Ehrlich Ann Arbor, MI

I have always been fascinated with Abraham Lincoln. But so often we think of him as his image has been shown stereotypically -- in a formal portrait, or on the face of a coin or a bill. This painting brings Lincoln to life, and shows him as an individual. In addition to the subject matter, the attention to the single source of light is striking, but also gives it a bit of a photographic look. Finally, Lincoln looks at peace. I really like that!

Debi Dault Brownstown, MI

Garnet Sharpe Milan, Michigan

What great oil painting

Evan Brown Ann Arbor

I picked this work of art because it has a down home feel and I know Lincoln liked to read and so do I. I also remember as a little kid reading by the fire place in a dark room with my parents.

Kathleen H. Kennedy Ann Arbor, MI

I've always loved this piece. A wonderful feeling of calm washes over me when it look at it. I always look for it when I come to the museum.

Cassidy Moravy-Penchansky Ann Arbor, Michigan

I love this piece. It was the first I saw, but it immediately captured my attention and although I was looking through the other pieces, I kept coming back to Lincoln in my mind. What I really like about it is the lighting of the picture, how you can tell that the light falling on him from the fireplace is the only light left. Another thing that drew me into this picture was simply the position in which Abe is sitting, one leg stretching out to lean him into the fire for better light to read by, and one propped up to keep him from falling into the scorching flames, making him a very interesting person. He longs for knowledge, or adventure, even if it is fictional, but he also has a good head about him, being careful not to get so lost in it that he forgets where he is. The contrast and composition in this painting make it so much more interesting to my eyes. The extreme lights and darks really adds to the firelight effect. I also like how it looks like an ordinary household. That, to me, sent the message that anyone can change the world. That if Abraham Lincoln came from ordinary boy to extraordinary president, then I can do anything if I really want it and try my hardest.


Cheryl Phillips Munith, Michigan

Raye Holden Saline, Michigan

Judy Aagesen Fenton, MI

an aura of learning

Maureen Fischbach Pinckney, Michigan

Jeannie Moody-Novak Canton, MI


Cheri Alexander  Ann Arbor, Michigan

It reminded me of my father telling me about Lincoln studying by the fire and reminding me I had to go study. I never saw this painting before this or knew about it, and I haven't thought about the stories for at least 45 years. Best wishes on the opening of the museum addition.

John Porter  Manchester, Mi.

A true representation of Americana.

Annette Lozon  Canton, MI

Beautifully captures the love of reading and learning.

Rainey  Ann Arbor

How self-discipline and the aspiration to make more of one's self create hope and self-transformation -- no matter the circumstances.