American Art Project
It is important to remember, represent, and honour a collective past, but it is equally important to understand a deeper significance to visual records. In this assignment, you will examine works of art available through the website of the Architect of the Capitol. The purpose is to emphasize how art can be used to portray historical events and convey a message when viewed in the context of the age in which it was created. This assignment is not an art critique. Look for connections between events and images. You will NOT be describing the event the artwork depicts, but the period of American history in which it was created. You will be creating either a document or a presentation.
Completing This Assignment:
� Click on the individual images for each of the 8 paintings to see them in more detail and read the short article on each of the corresponding pages for these paintings.
� Choose 4 images and write a 200�300-word paragraph for each of them, addressing the following:
1. When was the image commissioned and hung? What is the historical context of this painting? What events were occurring when this painting was created that could have contributed to its content? How are those connections between content and context most clearly presented?
2. Is the artist successful in communicating contextual influences? Is the message too difficult to understand for a modern viewer?
� As a heading for each paragraph, include the image, its title, and the artist.
� Read the short overview and description of the collection and search to find the 2 statues that represent your state. (Maryland) (if none use North Carolina)
� Copy the image for each representative of your state into the document or presentation.
o If you are not a resident of the United States or do not claim a �home state� for any reason, you are free to adopt any of the 50 states as your own for the purposes of this assignment.
� After the image, include the individual�s name and the state he or she represents.
� In a 200�300-word paragraph for each image,
o give a short summary of the individual�s historic significance and
o give an evaluation of whether this individual is a good choice to represent your state.
Art can be a very vital tool when it comes to communication. Examples of art works that have been a great symbol of significance are the Historic Rotunda Paintings and the statues contained in the National Statuary Hall Collection [i].The purpose of this paper is to appreciate the importance of art in portraying landmark historical events
GENERAL GEORGE WASHINGTON RESIGNING HIS COMMISSION
By John Trumbull
This painting was commissioned in 1817 and hung in 1826. The painting is significant in depicting the resignation of George Washington as commander-in-chief of the continental army. One of the most fundamental principles of American democracy is establishing a civilian authority over the military and this is well depicted by the piece of art. It is around this period, 1788-1789, that the first presidential elections in the country had been held. This event can be taken to have contributed to this painting. It is an established principle under the constitution that the country is to be led under a civil regime and power limits are to be set on the leaders. During the war for independence, congress had granted authoritative power to Washington for the purposes of steering the war but once the war had ended he chose to resign from power. The connection of the painting with the presidential elections is that, once an elected president is done with his/her turn to serve, he/she should be willing to hand off the power given to him. In this case Washington had been given this post for the purposes of commandeering the war and once the war had ended it was exemplary of him to give up the post. The artist has successfully been able to communicate in that from the view of modern day society, the president is elected for two terms and once these two terms have expired, he/she is expected to give up the position willing fully. The light emanating from the room illuminating Washington can be taken to symbolize his authority or power.[ii]
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
By John Tumbull
The painting was commissioned in 1817 and hung in 1826. The painting depicts the June 28th, 1776 event when the first draft of the declaration document was presented to the congress. During this period of time, democracy had began to develop in the US in that elections for representatives, including the presidential elections, were taking place and this could have been a contributing factor leading to the creation of this painting. This document was set to establish some fundamental principles pertaining to the revolutionary war and owing to the fact that this is the period during which democracy can be stated as having begun to developed, the painting can be taken to have symbolized the importance of constitutionalism. It is enshrined as a principle of constitutionalism that the constitution shall be the central authority from which all laws to the land shall derive their authority. The declaration document was in the same way required to act as the epicentre for principles expected to guide the war. To show the importance of the document, the authors are depicted in the document as standing at the centre of the congress house. This shows the central role that this document is expected to play similar to the role of a constitution is the framework of constitutionalism.[iii]
DISCOVERY OF THE MISSISSIPPI
by William H. Powell
The painting was commissioned in 1847 and hung in 1855. The painting depicts a Spanish explorer, Hernando De Soto, arriving at the Mississippi river riding on a horse. The painting also shows wounded men who had been wounded the previous day following an attack by the Indians. As a desire for peace, the artist depicts the Native Americans watching wearily in despair as the explorer and his troops arrive and the chief holding out his pipe of peace. The central part of the drawing is colourful whilst the outer part is depicted with gloomy colours. This variation of colour can be taken to depict the mood with the colourful part symbolizing hope for peace while the dark parts show the negative effect of lack of peace, that is, a gloomy environment. This period of the 19th century had been witnessed by a number of attacks and conflicts in the country and this could have been one of the contributing factors leading to the drawing of the painting. Some of the wars witnessed included battle of Maguaga, Brownston, Detroit and the Tecumseh’s war. The arrival of the explorer is seen as symbolizing the arrival of peace putting into consideration that the Mississippi river is the ultimate symbol of freedom and De Soto is considered as being the first documented European to have seen the river. His arrival is thus set to free the people form war and grant them peace and this is to be shown by the colourful central part of the painting. The artist in this case has been very successful in communicating this message from a modern viewer perspective.[iv]
Landing of Columbus
By John Vanderlyn
This painting was commissioned in 1836 and hung in 1847. The painting depicts Christopher Columbus and his crew on a beach having landed there in their expedition to find a westward route from Europe to China, Japan and other unknown islands. This period was the period during which the trans-Atlantic economy was in a state of flux. There was therefore a need by the Europeans to find ways of intervening in trade without stifling it. This could have been one of the factors behind the drawing of this painting during this period of time. The painting depicts the people in the painting as adventurous as if in the spirit of making new discoveries as it is put across that Columbus stands in such a manner that depicts humility. The need to discover new routes from Europe to other regions can be considered as an important one for the purposes of boosting the fluxing trade activities. Although the artist can be considered as having being successful in putting across this message, its difficult to some extent for a modern viewer to decipher it since it would require a wide knowledge on issues concerning trade. This would therefore require for the viewer to have first researched widely on this topic.
THE STATE OF MARYLAND
The state of Maryland is considered to be the birthplace of the United States National Anthem as well as the birthplace of religious freedom. The unequivocal contribution of the state to the rich history of the United States of America is insurmountable and proof of this lies in the National Statuary hall collections. Key examples of the representatives of this fine state are as shown below.[vi]
1. CHARLES CAROLL
Charles Carroll was born on the 19th of September 1793 in Annapolis. He was the only child to Charles Carroll of Annapolis and Elizabeth Brooke. He was educated in Jesuit Schools until his graduation in 1755 after which he pursued law in in London. Due to the fact that he was a Roman Catholic he was bared by the Maryland Statute from politics, practicing law and voting. This propelled him to speak out against such discrimination and in 1772; he held a debate conducted through various newspapers under the pseudonym “first citizen” which spoke against the governor’s proclamation of increasing legal fees to states officers and protestant clergy.
It should be noted that he was also a linchpin in the American Revolution that sought independence from Britain. Due to his notoriety as the first citizen, he served on various committees of correspondence.
In the 1770’s Carroll became a powerful voice for independence. He seems convinced that only violence could break the impasse with Great Britain and as a result he played a key role in the burning down in the Annapolis Harbor of the Peggy Stewart ship which was destroyed as part of the tea party protests against British excise duties enacted by the parliament on tea.
His recognition as a voice to the people led to 1774 where he was commissioned with Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase to seek aid from Canada. He furthermore, was appointed as delegate to the Continental congress on July 1776 and signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1778 he retired from the Continental congress so as to serve the state of Maryland in drafting its first constitution. His unparalleled efforts were recognized in 1789 when he became the first senator of the state of Maryland, a post he retired from in 1792.
To sum it up, the efforts of such a person in life deserve only to be immortalized and engraved in stone for future generations to behold and follow in the same footsteps. Therefore the addition of one Charles Caroll of Carlton in the National Statuary Collection is not an honor that we bestow upon ourselves, rather an honor he bestows upon us.
2. JOHN HANSON
John Hanson was born on the 3rd of April 1721 in Port Tobacco Parish in Charles County to Samuel and Elizabeth Hanson. He was presumably privately tutored and in 1744 married Jane Contee and six years later his career in public service began.in 1757 he was elected to represent Charles county in the lower house of the Maryland General Assembly . In 1765 he played a key role in opposing the stamp Act and acted as one of the chairs to the committee that drafted instructions to for Maryland Delegates to the Stamp act Congress.
After leaving the service in 1769 he rejoined it at 1775 after the relation between Great Britain and the colonies reached a breaking point. His service was invaluable as he was active in raising troops and providing arms. This led to his recognition in 1779 where he served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. His public service experience was invaluable, especially in resolving the western land issues thus facilitating the ratification of the Articles of Confederation.
One of the most outstanding roles in his career was in 17 81- 1782 where he was the President of the United States in Congress Assembled under the Articles of the Confederation. It is his service that established America’s position in the worlds. This is because he helped establish necessary services during his tenure such as a post office, a national bank and a consular service. The debt America owes such a man is insurmountable. Through his invaluable service, America was able to fully establish itself as a country. Therefore his place in the National Statuary collection is not necessary, it is mandatory.
[i] United States. A History of the Committee on House Administration, 1947-2012. 2013.
[ii] Moten, Matthew. Presidents and Their Generals: An American History of Command in War. 2014: 369-370
[iii] O’Connell, David. The Art and Life of Atlanta Artist Wilbur G. Kurtz: Inspired by Southern History. 2013: 14-16
[iv] Celestin, Louis-Cyril. Charles-Edouard Brown-Séquard: The Biography of a Tormented Genius. 2014. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-03020-3>.:55-60
[v] Reason, Akela, and Thomas Eakins. Thomas Eakins and the Uses of History. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010: 19
[vi] Federal Writers’ Project, and United States. The WPA Guide to Maryland, the Old Line State. 2014.