Smithsonian gathers best art of Civil War era

Eastman Johnson’s 1859 oil on linen, Negro Life at the South, is part of a major exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Associated Press

Eastman Johnson’s 1859 oil on linen, Negro Life at the South, is part of a major exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Paintings and photographs depicting the raw reality of the Civil War marked a major change in American art that tossed out romantic notions of war.

Some of the finest artists of the day, including Winslow Homer, Eastman Johnson, Frederic Church and Sanford Gifford, painted landscapes and scenes of everyday life to show how the war transformed the nation. Their best works, along with some of the first photographs of soldiers killed on the battlefield, have been gathered by the Smithsonian American Art Museum for a major exhibition on how artists represented the war and how the war changed art.

"The Civil War and American Art" is on view in Washington through April and then moves to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Curator Eleanor Jones Harvey spent years researching the project and borrowing many of the 75 works in it. The show features scenes from Washington, Baltimore, New York, and points south at Fort Sumter, Charleston, S.C., Georgia and Virginia.

The art changed the rhetoric about war by depicting gruesome reality. Raw imagery shown to President Abraham Lincoln likely influenced the words he drafted for his Gettysburg Address, Harvey said. "There's a realization that this is a war that left nobody unscathed," she said.

Smithsonian gathers best art of Civil War era 11/23/12 [Last modified: Friday, November 23, 2012 10:14pm]

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