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Sep 09 2013

Capturing the Civil War

By Amy Mercer

Captain Charles A. and Sergeant John M. Hawkins, Company E, "Tom Cobb Infantry," Thirty-eighth Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry] (1861–62) Ambrotype, Quarter-plate; applied color; David Wynn Vaughan Collection. (Photo by Jack Melton).

Captain Charles A. and Sergeant John M. Hawkins, Company E, “Tom Cobb Infantry,” Thirty-eighth Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry] (1861–62) Ambrotype, Quarter-plate; applied color; David Wynn Vaughan Collection. (Photo by Jack Melton).

From September 27 – January 5, 2014, the Gibbes Museum of Art presents Photography and the American Civil War. Organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, this landmark exhibition brings together more than 200 of the finest and most poignant photographs of the American Civil War. Through examples drawn from The Metropolitan’s celebrated holdings, complemented by important loans from public and private collections, the exhibition will examine the evolving role of the camera during the nation’s bloodiest war. The “War between the States” was the great test of the young Republic’s commitment to its founding precepts; it was also a watershed in photographic history. The camera recorded from beginning to end the heartbreaking narrative of the epic four -year war (1861–1865) in which 750,000 lives were lost.

Photography and the American Civil War features both familiar and rarely seen images that include haunting battlefield landscapes strewn with bodies, studio portraits of armed Confederate and Union soldiers preparing to meet their destiny, rare multi-panel panoramas of Gettysburg and Richmond, and languorous camp scenes showing exhausted troops in repose. Also included are diagnostic medical studies of wounded soldiers who survived the war’s last bloody battles and portraits of both Abraham Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

We are thrilled to bring this exhibition to Charleston, the very city where the Civil War began,” says Curator of Exhibitions Pam Wall. “These photographs tell a powerful story of our nation’s greatest struggle, and the fascinating intersection between history and photography during this time period.”

Exhibition Overview

At the start of the Civil War, the nation’s photography galleries were overflowing with a variety of photographs of all kinds and sizes, many examples of which will be featured in the exhibition: portraits made on thin sheets of copper (daguerreotypes), glass (ambrotypes), or iron (tintypes), and larger, “painting-sized” likenesses on paper, often embellished with India ink, watercolor, and oils. The exhibition features groundbreaking works by Mathew B. Brady, George N. Barnard, Alexander Gardner, and Timothy O’Sullivan, among many others. One such example is Ruins in Charleston, South Carolina by George N. Barnard from 1865. This image depicting a scene of the devastated buildings along King Street is a particularly important photograph highlighting the artistic sensibilities of Barnard’s documentary work. The images of the loss, death, and destruction of the South contain moral lessons about war, heroism, and slavery.

Approximately 1,000 photographers worked separately and in teams to produce hundreds of thousands of photographs—portraits and views—that were actively collected during the period (and over the past century and a half) by Americans of all ages and social classes. In a direct expression of the nation’s changing vision of itself, the camera documented the war and also mediated it by memorializing the events of the battlefield as well as the consequent toll on the home front.

Gibbes Museum of Art

Established as the Carolina Art Association in 1858, the Gibbes Museum of Art opened its doors to the public in 1905.  Located in Charleston’s historic district, the Gibbes houses a premier collection of over 10,000 works, principally American with a Charleston or Southern connection, and presents special exhibitions throughout the year. In addition, the museum offers an extensive complement of public programming and educational outreach initiatives that serve the community by stimulating creative expression and improving the region’s superb quality of life. Visit highlights of the Gibbes collection on Google Art Project at The Museum is open Tues – Sat from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 – 5 p.m. Admission is $9 adults, $7 student and military, $5 children. 

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