Exhibitions: American Identities: A New Look

A Nation Divided: The Civil War Era

Gallery view of A Nation Divided: The Civil War Era, American Identities

Gallery view of "A Nation Divided: The Civil War Era," American Identities

The contents of this gallery underscore the fact that dramatically few nineteenth-century American artists undertook the challenge of directly representing the Civil War or the burning issue of American slavery. The majority, unwilling or unequipped to confront the destruction, loss, and trauma of the war years, continued to record an undisturbed American landscape and home life for an audience seeking reassurance that their former way of life and their nation might survive. The paintings, sculpture, and decorative objects gathered here demonstrate the ways in which American artists did refer to the war and its causes: with few exceptions, the works created during the conflict refer to it symbolically, whereas those created in the decades that followed were part of a virtual industry devoted to memorializing the Union cause and its heroes. It remained for artists of the twentieth century, whose work is also featured in this space, to fully confront the violent racial injustices that continued to divide the nation long after the war had ended.

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