Mary Todd Lincoln Portrait Fraud: Celebrated Art Of Abe's Wife Deemed To Be Fake

A long-celebrated portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln which hung for decades in the Illinois governor's mansion has been deemed a fake.

James Cornelius, the curator of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, described the painting as part of an elaborate fraud that befell President Abraham Lincoln's descendants in the 1920s, the Chicago Tribune reports.

"It was supposedly a gift Mary Lincoln planned to give to her husband, but then he was assassinated and she became a widow before she could present it to him," Cornelius told the Tribune Saturday of the painting's alleged backstory.

But the truth of the matter, as the Daily Journal reports, is that the portrait supposedly painted as a "secret" present for the president actually depicts an unknown woman who was later doctored to look more like Lincoln. Barry Bauman, a conservator, discovered that the "artist's" signature had been added to the portrait later, while he was cleaning it.

The painting was given to the state history society in Springfield, Ill. by Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, Lincoln's great grandson and his last living descendant, in 1976. According to the New York Times, the portrait was then sent to the Art Institute of Chicago, which noticed that the portrait had been retouched but apparently did not delve far enough into their discovery to identify the fraud at that time.

The Lincoln Library and Museum on April 26 will hold a lecture wherein the museum will explain the portrait's newly discovered history -- which is much different than the one previously ascribed to it.