American Collections blog

04 February 2011

Commemorating the Civil War: "The War We Want to Forget"?

I was chatting with a colleague at Queen Mary, who mentioned the British reluctance to remember the commotion caused in the UK by the American Civil War (perhaps unsurprisingly, given our support for the Confederate, slave-owning South), so I was interested to read this article in the Art Newspaper, which Carole forwarded to me. 

While museums and galleries were keen to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birthday in 2009, there has been much more of a disinclination to engage with the complex legacy of the Civil War (and perhaps a paucity of paintings). 

"Compared with the Revolution­ary War with its clear-cut enemy—the British —," notes Eleanor Jones Harvey, the chief curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum,"there is no glut of heroic canvases for the Civil War. “There was no market,” said Harvey, “for Ameri­cans fighting Amer­icans” ad­ding: “How do you commemorate something that we haven’t in a sense really gotten over?"

There are some exceptions - the Smithsonian, whose show Jones Harvey curated, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, for example.  And we'll be having a special website here at the BL.

[M.J.S.]

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