Early American Wars in Paintings

Early American Wars in Paintings

Marquand Mini Exhibit
August 2019

When thinking about artists, most people usually think about European artists like Van Gogh, Da Vinci or Picasso. Early American artists like John Trumbull, Gilbert Stuart, Richard Caton Woodville or Charles Wilson Peale usually get dismissed because of America’s short history as a country. However, these early American artists were instrumental in developing and recording America’s history as a nation, through capturing the reactions of American society during American crisis. 

Revolutionary War (Apr 19, 1775 – Sep 3, 1783)

After the Revolutionary War, the newly “born” American artists depicted America as a united country as they primarily crafted paintings of either glorious leaders or significant events. By using lighter tones and concentrating on the person and not the setting (during portraits), the artists depict their subjects as regal and composed. Furthermore in battle scenes, painters would typically feature the Continental Army in the center, where there would be light shining down upon them amplifying the heroes in their glory.  


Mexican-American War (Apr 25, 1846 – Feb 2, 1848)

The Mexican-American War was short and successful, and American artists depicted the United States public as being briefly united in their opinions on it. Prints and lithographs appeared constantly in the newspapers depicting America’s army as victorious. Richard Caton Woodville, an American artist at the time, included different groups of people of varying race, age, gender, and economic status all holding the same expression over America’s victories. 


Civil War (Apr 12, 1861 – Apr 9, 1865)

The Civil War was a war that impacted America on a scale not previously experienced by most citizens. Considered the most deadly war in American history, artists depicted America in the Civil War era as a disjointed nation plagued with death and grief. Artists displayed this by using darker colors to generate murkiness in the picture emphasizing the confusion of the times. In battle scenes, the field would usually be overcrowded and most soldiers were shadowy figures that were hard to distinguish. Additionally, soldiers were integrated within the setting rather than featured on their own. Juxtaposed to the Revolutionary War, where soldiers were featured and the highlight of many paintings, the Civil War artists made it clear that there was no glory in these battles.  

Jayvee Lam, Princeton High School ‘21


August 2019













On display:

Robert Hughes
American Vision : The Epic History of Art in America
New York: Knopf, 1997
Marquand, N6505 .H84 1997

Irma B. Jaffe
John Trumbull, Patriot-Artist of the American Revolution
Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1975
Marquand, ND237.T6J33

Martha A. Sandweiss
Eyewitness to War : Prints and Daguerreotypes of the Mexican War, 1846-1848
Fort Worth, TX: Amon Carter Museum, 1989
Marquand, E415.2.A78 A47 1989

Frances K. Pohl
Framing America: A Social History of American Art
New York: Thames & Hudson, 2012
Marquand, N6512 .P59 2012

Hermann Warner Williams
The Civil War: The Artists' Record 
Meriden, CT: Meriden Gravure, 1962
Marquand, N6510 .W67

Justin P. Wolff
Richard Caton Woodville: American Painter, Artful Dodger
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002
Marquand, ND237.W93 W643 2002

Susanna W. Gold
The Unfinished Exhibition: Visualizing Myth, Memory, and the Shadow of the Civil War in Centennial America
Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England; New York: Routledge, 2017
Marquand, N72.H58 G65 2017