Wow. I’ll need to add New York to my to-do list for this year, as this fabulous exhibition will have left DC before I’m due to visit. The Smithsonian has linked to a PDF catalogue of the works on display and they are almost all pieces I recognize. A greatest hits of Civil War artwork. If you’re in NY or DC this year, run don’t walk.
The Civil War and American Art includes 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 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.