ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S craggy, compassionate countenance, crinkling with humor and graven by tragedy, is as familiar to most Americans as the faces of their own grandfathers. The first great photographer, Matthew Brady, portrayed Lincoln many times in the course of the Civil War, and generations of schoolboys have studied Brady's portraits. Few ever saw the beardless, relatively untried Lincoln opposite, which was displayed with a Lincoln's Birthday flourish this week in Washington's Corcoran Gallery.

The picture's shadowy history was pieced together recently by Art Historian Katharine McCook Knox. A Chicago promoter commissioned the canvas from the most fashionable portraitist of the day, George...

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