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Masterpieces of Civil War Portraiture from the Burns Collection at Robert Anderson Gallery
Reed Bontecou, Healing Union Civil War soldier seen at the Harewood Army Hospital. Photo: Stanley Burns Collection, courtesy Robert Anderson Gallery.
NEW YORK, NY.- The 43 albumen photographs on view at Robert Anderson Gallery compromise a rare, and for the most part, first time ever public view of the unique medical images by Reed Brockway Bontecou, MD, Surgeon in-Charge of Harewood U.S. Army General Hospital, Washington, D.C., from the Collection of Stanley B. Burns, MD. In recognition of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Robert Anderson Gallery offers this rare collection of albumen portraits and cartes de visites of wounded soldiers, selected from Bontecou’s personal albums. The photographs represent a unique opportunity to view some of the most moving documents of the Civil War and the associated human casualties.

Reed Bontecou was responsible for pioneering, and taking, the largest number of photographs of wounded soldiers during the Civil War and was the single largest contributor of photographs and specimens to the Army Medical Museum and medical publications of the time. His close up images of surgery, anesthesia, and patients posing with their pathological specimens were unique to his time. Many photographs are of patients pre- and post- operation, views of patients showing the progression of specific treatments, or the various stages of diseases. Bontecou’s images are beautifully posed, and the sitters seem almost serene in his gaze, elevating clinical photography to an art form. They speak a universal language of war, or rather, what it can do in human terms. Bontecou was a master of exposing the nature of the sitter. Beyond the wounds, the amputations, and the gangrene, the subject is presented as naturally as possible. Some images are further enhanced by Bontecou’s own red pen, detailing the trajectory of the bullet that impacted on the patient. These images, with the hand drawn lines, were part of his personal Harewood Hospital teaching album.

Also on view are his Cartes de Visites, an amazing visual document of the medical aspects of war and examples not equaled until fifty years later during WW1. The CDV album is the pioneering effort by one physician to document war wounds and to use photography to teach physicians how to care for these wounds. Due to their historical precedence there can be no doubt that Bontecou’s CDV album, kept at Harewood U. S. A. General hospital, is the premier medical photograph album of the Civil War. On view will be one page of the album, comprised of 12 single CDVs, and four single CDVs from The Amy Medical Museum, Photographs Contributed by R. B. Bontecou.

The exhibition will be on view through November 12, 2011.

Robert Anderson Gallery | Masterpieces Civil War | Stanley B. Burns |




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