Smithsonian Exhibition: The Civil War and American Art

This is for those who think all my Civil War studies are focused on cannon blasts and bugle calls!

Starting in mid-November, the Smithsonian American Art Museum hosts an exhibition titled The Civil War and American Art:

The Civil War and American Art will examine how America’s artists represented the impact of the Civil War and its aftermath. Winslow Homer, Eastman Johnson, Frederic Church, and Sanford Gifford—four of America’s finest artists of the era—anchor the exhibition. The exhibition follows the conflict from palpable unease on the eve of war, to heady optimism that it would be over with a single battle, to a growing realization that this conflict would not end quickly and a deepening awareness of issues surrounding emancipation and the need for reconciliation. Genre and landscape painting captured the transformative impact of the war, not traditional history painting.

The Civil War and American Art will include 77 works—59 paintings and 18 vintage photographs. The artworks were chosen for their aesthetic power in conveying the intense emotions of the period. Homer and Johnson grappled directly with issues such as emancipation and reconciliation. Church and Gifford contended with the destruction of the idea that America was a “New Eden.” Most of the artworks in the exhibition were made during the war, when it was unclear how long it might last and which side would win.

The exhibition also includes battlefield photography, which carried the gruesome burden of documenting the carnage and destruction. The visceral and immediate impact of these images by Alexander Gardner, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, and George Barnard freed the fine arts to explore the deeper significance of the Civil War, rather than chronicle each battle.

Eleanor Jones Harvey, senior curator, is organizing the exhibition. (More Details)

The exhibit runs from November 16 to April 23 at the American Art Museum, at 8th and F Streets, NW, Washington, D.C. That’s just off the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro stop for those riding the rails into the city.

You may recall that earlier this year the museum hosted an exhibit with portraits of notable Civil War era figures. This new exhibit will move into a different direction, looking beyond the battlefields and the prominent figures, to examine the changes within the art form as a result of the war. And note the exhibit also includes what was at the time the emerging art form of photography.

In addition to the exhibit, the museum hosts four talks/symposiums in November and December:

After April, this exhibit goes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it will show through September.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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