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Major Smithsonian exhibition examines the impact of the Civil War on American art
Winslow Homer, The Veteran in a New Field, 1865, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876-1967), 1967, Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
WASHINGTON, DC.- The Smithsonian American Art Museum presents the only major exhibition that examines how America’s artists represented the impact of the Civil War and its aftermath as part of the war’s 150th anniversary commemoration. Winslow Homer, Eastman Johnson, Frederic Church and Sanford Gifford—four of America’s finest artists of the era—anchor the exhibition.

“The Civil War and American Art” is on view at the museum’s main building in Washington, D.C., from Nov. 16 through April 28, 2013. The exhibition is organized by Eleanor Jones Harvey, senior curator. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is the only additional venue for the exhibition.

“The great painters responded to the mood of the nation during this profound internal conflict,” said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “We believe the exhibition will attract a national audience that wants to understand the powerful emotional effect the events of the 1860s had on America.”

“The Civil War and American Art” 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.

“This exhibition will show how our artists responded in the moment to a great national crisis and how it changed our ambition for America’s civilization, reinventing the Founders’ ideals for a new age,” said Harvey. “The landscapes and genre paintings in the exhibition gave voice to our highest ideals and deepest concerns during the war that has been called the ‘second American Revolution.’”

The exhibition features 75 works—57 paintings and 18 vintage photographs. The artworks were chosen for their aesthetic power in conveying the intense emotions of the period. Homer and Johnson addressed 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.



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