Monday, December 20, 2010

Art of the American Soldier Exhibit Extended Thru March

I received notice this morning that the "Art of the American Soldier" exhibit at Constitution Center in Philadelphia has been extended through March 31.  This exhibit presents paintings and drawings created by American soldiers while serving in theaters of war from the fields of World War I to the present day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The website of the exhibit presents the art on an interactive timeline where you can scroll through the decades, viewing the images and listening to a montage of newscasts and music from the era.

 This image of a WWI machine gunner was produced in 1918 by Captain Harvey Dunn, a combat artist assigned to the American Expeditionary Forces in France. 

In 1917, the American military designated "official war artists" who were sent to Europe to record the activities of American Forces there and like many of them, Captain Harvey Dunn was formally trained.  Dunn had studied at the Chicago Art Institute then later under the famed adventure novel illustrator Howard Pyle.

"Unlike the objective camera lens that records the single instant and no more, the artist not only captures instantaneous action, but can fuse earlier moments of the same scene into a compelling image. Observation, insight, elimination of confusing detail, and focusing on the essential can all be compassed by the artist's eye." - U.S. Navy Combat Art Program

The Navy's Combat Art Program was officially founded in 1941 after  muralist Griffith Baily Coale, convinced the Navy's top brass of the importance of having competent artists on the battlefields to record the history that was taking place. Not to be outdone, the Army established a War Art Unit in late 1942.  The War Art Advisory Committee selected 23 active duty military and 19 civilian artists to work in the program.

But in May 1943 Congress withdrew funding from the program and the War Art Unit was inactivated. 

The effort to create a visual record of the American military experience in World War II was then taken up by the private sector in two different programs, one by Life magazine and one by Abbott Laboratories, a large medical supply company. When Life offered to employ civilian artists as was correspondents, the War Department agreed to provide them the same support already being given to print and film correspondents. Seventeen of nineteen civilians artists who had been selected by the War Art Committee joined Life as war correspondents. A deal was struck between, then editor of Life, Daniel Longwell and the Secretary of War for the artists to receive the same treatment as news correspondents.[1] Abbott, in coordination with the Army's Office of the Surgeon General, commissioned twelve artists to record the work of the Army Medical Corps. These two programs resulted in a wide range of work by distinguished artists who had the opportunity to observe the war firsthand." - The United States Army Art Program, Wikipedia

The Navy Combat Art Program was revived with two military artists in the Korean War and in the Vietnam era the program operated with civilian artists in cooperation with the Salmagundi Club. The Navy also began sending artists to cover a broader array of naval activities in addition to combat. Following the merger of the Navy Combat Art Program with the Naval Historical Center, artists have been sent to the Persian Gulf and Desert Shield/Storm. - Naval History and Heritage Command

Since my husband served as a combat engineer during the Vietnam War and has often told me how getting enough sleep was a daily challenge between sweeping roads for mines all day then standing guard half the night, I was particularly drawn to this image entitled "The Waiting Game" by Sp6 Kenneth J. Scowcroft depicting two exhausted members of the 4th Infantry Division near the flight line at the heliport on Dragon Mountain in Plieku, Vietnam .  I think my husband would have titled it "Catching ZZZZsss!" though.

If you're going to be in the Philadelphia area before the end of March, I would urge you to stop by Constitution Center and view these images that capture the sacrifice our young men and women have made over the last 100 years.  If you can't make it in person, I recommend visiting the website and viewing the online gallery.  The art truly depicts the human dimension of war "in a way no photograph or newsreel ever could!"
   Drawing Fire: Vietnam Through the Eyes of a Combat Artist   Portrait of War: The U.S. Army's First Combat Artists and the Doughboys' Experience in WWI    They Drew Fire - Combat Artists World War II   Drawing Fire: A Combat Artist at War : Pacific Europe Korea Indochina Vietnam 
War Diary of a Combat Artist
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Monday, December 13, 2010

Custer Portrait Vases sell for more than $50,000

Today I received a notice from Heritage Auction Galleries about their recent auction of a pair of hand painted porcelain vases with portraits of George Armstrong Custer and his wife Libby.

In July of 1865 Custer and his young bride traveled to New Orleans, where they visited the studio of the highly regarded photographer and portrait artist R. T. Lux. There they were photographed by Lux, and the tintype images he retained were used to paint these remarkably life-like portraits. The vases are of baluster form, measuring 11" in height, and adorned with bouquets of pink roses bound in blue ribbons. Each is dated "July 1865," and signed "R.T. Lux, N.O." Lux's work is highly collectable today, and this magnificent pair must surely be considered among the most desirable examples. Pictured on page 72 of Lawrence Frost's important book, The Custer Album, they are among the most recognizable of Custer artifacts. When Butterfield & Butterfield auctioned a number of important Custer relics on behalf of the family, the vase depicting Custer was featured on the catalog's cover. The pair was sold at Butterfield's in 1995, where they fetched $46,750. The original Lux tintype of Custer, featuring the exact same portrait seen on the painted vase, was auctioned by the Custer family at the same time, but unfortunately not together with the vases. - Heritage Auction Galleries
George Armstrong Custer and Elizabeth Bacon Cu...Image via Wikipedia
George Armstrong Custer and Elizabeth Bacon Custer
between 1860 and 1865.  Courtesy of the Library of
I found a copy of a portrait of the couple from the Library of Congress for comparison.  Although Libby is wearing a similar dress, George's hair is much shorter than in the vase portrait.  However, the vase portraits' resemblance to the couple's facial details in the photograph is striking.

If you visit the Heritage Auction Gallery website and set up a free account, you can view wonderful enlarged images of these portraits as well as other historical collectibles that are either being offered for sale or have been sold in the past including firearms, military paper ephemera (military manuals, discharge papers, orders, letters, etc), uniforms, flags, cannon, bladed weapons, tintypes, etc.  What a treasure trove of information all freely available if you just set up a free  account!  You can browse online catalogs of both past and upcoming auctions and they publish a beautifully illustrated magazine that may be read online or requested in print at no charge.

Earlier this month, the only U.S. flag not captured or lost during Custer's Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn sold at auction for $2.2 million. 

The Culbertson Guidon from the 1876
Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Image
courtesy of Sotheby's
Of the five guidons [flags with a distinctive swallow-tailed shape] carried by Custer's battalion only one was immediately recovered, from beneath the body of a fallen trooper.

According to testimonials from Indians involved in the fight, the trooper, Cpl. John Foley, was attempting to escape on horseback — and had almost succeeded — when he shot himself in the head. All the other flags under Custer's command were believed captured by the victorious Indians.

The recovered flag later became known as the Culbertson Guidon, after the member of the burial party who recovered it, Sgt. Ferdinand Culbertson. Made of silk, it measures 33 inches by 27 inches, and features 34 gold stars. - Matthew Brown, Associated Press
The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn   A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - the Last Great Battle of the American West   Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors   Lakota Noon: The Indian Narrative of Custer's Defeat   They Died With Custer: Soldiers' Bones from the Battle of the Little Bighorn   Archaeology, History, and Custer's Last Battle: The Little Big Horn Re-examined   Custer and the Little Bighorn: The Man, The Mystery, The Myth  My Life on the Plains (Military History)
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