Research: Luce Center for American Art

American History

The celebration in art of important people and events is an ancient tradition that goes back to prehistoric times. The objects that mark our modern cult of the individual and our concepts of fame and notoriety grow out of this age-old tradition. Although we most often think of sophisticated painting and sculpture as the vehicles to celebrate famous people and history, more modest materials have been used as well, in such commemorative objects as factory-produced pressed-glass souvenirs and mechanically printed textile scarves and banners.

Since the American Revolution, painters and sculptors have played an important role in the invention of a visible history for the new nation. Portraits of national leaders and heroes such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Nathan Hale evoke heroic and ideal narratives in a single emblematic figure. The Emancipation Cane (1996.179), probably made by an African-American carver, depicts a continuous condensed account of the saga of Africans in America from capture to enslavement to freedom. Eastman Johnson’s A Ride for Liberty—The Fugitive Slaves (40.59 a-b) is based on an incident observed by the artist during the Civil War. James Hamilton’s Foundering (55.139) treated the conflict and the threat to the Union through the metaphor of impending shipwreck.

25 objects are included in this theme. They are arranged into 2 groups:
Notable Figures
Signal Events

Notable Figures
20.666 Charles Loring Elliott
General John Charles Frémont, 1857

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32.142.63 Unknown
Pitcher, ca. 1805

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34.1178 Charles Willson Peale
George Washington, 1776

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40.177 American
Plate (Theodore Roosevelt), 1904

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40.266 American
Bust of Admiral George Dewey, 1899

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41.133 The Mosaic Tile Company
Paperweight Tile (Abraham Lincoln), early 20th century

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45.179 Gilbert Stuart
George Washington, 1796

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47.19.1 Unknown
Vase, One of a Pair, John Adams, 1828-1830

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47.19.2 Unknown
Vase, One of a Pair, Thomas Jefferson, 1828-1830

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54.206 John Rogers
The Council of War, 1868

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60.12.70 Unknown
Pitcher, ca. 1790

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64.82.240a-b Enoch Wood and Sons
Coffee Pot and Lid, ca. 1825-1835

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77.48.4 James Gillinder & Sons
Bust of Lincoln, ca. 1876

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1989.180 Frederick Stymetz Lamb
Presentation Window, "William Penn, Peace Movement, Pennsylvania", ca. 1905

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1991.269 Thomas Ball
Daniel Webster, 1853

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1995.63 Frederick William MacMonnies
Nathan Hale, 1890

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1999.54.1 George Augustus Baker Jr.
Henry Ward Beecher, 1874

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Signal Events
40.59a-b Eastman Johnson
A Ride for Liberty -- The Fugitive Slaves (recto), ca. 1862

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40.174 American
Plate (William McKinley), 1901

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40.190 American
Goodwill Plane with Charles Lindberg, 1928

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40.211 American
Platter (Bunker Hill Monument), 1876

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40.230 American
Paperweight, Plymouth Rock, 1876

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40.265a-b Covered Dish, U.S. Battleship Maine, ca. 1898

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55.139 James Hamilton
Foundering, 1863

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75.188 Robert Walter Weir
Embarkation of the Pilgrims, 1857

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