For Richard Williams

I think he needs it.  Here are just a few of my favorite images of Robert E. Lee that I would be proud to have hanging in my office.

[left to right: “The Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson” by Everett B.D. Julio, “General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va” by L.M.D. Guillaume, “General Robert E. Lee at Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862″ by Henry A. Ogden, and “Until Sundown” by Don Troiani (this print hangs in my office) – I was unable to find one of my favorites of Lee  by Edward C. Bruce, but you can find a copy of it in Gallagher’s recent book on movies and art, p. 160.]

So, among the other things we disagree about, throw in art.  Good work, Richard.  Do you feel better now?  By the way, what are your favorite images of Lee?  And how about you, dear reader?

Note: I just realized that my preferred images of Lee are military and in the heat of battle. Perhaps, this comes back to the factt that I see Lee’s importance to the Civil War as strictly military. Yes, I am interested in his broader narrative, but in the end his relevance always reduces to his record and performance on the field. I am willing to wager that there are more artistic renditions of Lee outside of his role as general. Has this ever happened with any other general in American history? If not, why?

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36 comments… add one

  • Excellent choices sir. Yes, I do feel better, thank you. One of my current favorites is Strain’s piece depicting Lee, Stuart, Jackson, & Pelham leaving a worship service in Winter:

    http://www.johnpaulstrain.com/art/onward-christian-soldiers.htm

    I also admire Julio’s “The Last Meeting.” I like much of Kunstler’s work as well. Another of my favorite’s is the Pine portrait which hangs in Lee Chapel.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2009

      Glad to see we agree, although the Strain piece is the perfect example of what I can’t stand about Civil War art. Well, to each his own.

  • Robert Moore Mar 3, 2009

    Hey, you have “Until Sundown” also… cool! So do I. It’s one of my two Troiani favorites. I also have “Band of Brothers,” which actually took on a new meaning only about a year ago when I learned that I had a Moore cousin who was killed in the assault the Marylanders made. It’s interesting, but both pieces centering on Marylanders or activities in Maryland must be hinting at something subliminal within me…. hmmm.

  • Ken Noe Mar 3, 2009

    I own a print of the Julio, as well as A. E. Mathew’s “Perryville.” I very much admire other period artists, notably Homer and Chapman, who actually were with the soldiers in the field and who were painting from real life. I still find Homer’s “Veteran in a New Field” breathtaking in its subtlety, while Moses Ezekiel’s “Virginia Mourning Her Dead” at VMI never fails to move me. And Richard, I like Pine’s Lee a lot too. My quarrel’s not with the subject matter of modern ACW art, in other words, it’s with the wooden skill level and the bloodless profit-motive of so much of it. There’s no life to it.

  • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2009

    Robert,

    I also have “Band of Brothers”. Actually, I own upwards of 10 Troiani prints and one giclee edition of his recent release of the Crater.

    Ken,

    “There’s no life to it.” That’s exactly my problem with this schlock.

  • Emotions aside, don’t you think the Strain piece is a conceivably accurate depiction of a real event?

    Also, in answer to your question, If not, why? – I believe it is because he is one of the most admired figures in American history.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2009

      I guess it’s an accurate scenario, but why does it need to be painted? Sorry, but I just don’t get it. It’s really bad art. Of course, he is one of the most admired figures in AH. That wasn’t what I was asking. Why do we need to see him reading to children or contemplating in a garden, etc.

  • Ken:

    “the bloodless profit-motive” I have no problem with profit motive. It’s what feeds the world, but that aside, I tend to agree that many of these artists have over produced in recent years, which is part of the reason why their product is no longer in as much demand.

    Kevin:

    I could not disagree more, there’s much life in it, at least my view of life. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, right? “Why does in need to be painted?” Why does any scene need to be painted? I don’t quite understand the question.

    “Why do we need to see him reading to children or contemplating in a garden, etc.”

    Why not? I would retort by asking why do we need to see cartoonish posters of Lincoln with the artist stating: “I looked deep into his [Lincoln’s] eyes and found that I was falling in love.” Where’s the balance in your criticism?

    Why do we need to see Lee doing anything, for that matter? As you’ve noted, it’s a matter of taste. I think Strain’s “Onward Christian Soldiers” is stunningly beautiful, as well as an accurate depiction of a real event. The revivals in the Army of Northern Virginia were a huge influence on the Confederate Army, as well as the lives of those same men after the war. It is an overlooked aspect of the war in academic studies. (Ken, wouldn’t you agree with that?) So, given the fact it was a huge impact on the soldiers, as well as the commanders, why would it be surprising or inappropriate to depict some facet of that event?

    Regarding Strain’s style, I recently spoke to another WBTS artist who was critical of Strain’s almost photographic quality in his work. Personally, I like it very much, but that’s just my personal preference.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2009

      What more needs to be said? Beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder. I think Strain’s choices of scenes is silly and his style is lacking. Finally, I don’t see why you keep bringing up this question of balance. I don’t know what you are implying. Do you see my critique as a pro-Lincoln anti-Lee matter? If so, I don’t agree one bit. Thanks again.

  • Chris Evans Mar 3, 2009

    Good selected portraits of Lee. I especially like the depictions of Lee at the Battle of Fredericksburg and Antietam. There have been several paintings on the “Lee to the rear” episode at the Battle of the Wilderness I found interesting, I think Troiani did the best job yet depicting that famous episode.
    Chris

  • Kevin:

    You asked why the paintings of Lee in the garden, reading to children, etc – sentimental depictions, no doubt – but you don’t ask the same question about an artist who says she’s “falling in love” with Lincoln? You don’t think that is silly? And talk about style! Comic book vs. a detailed painting.

    I’m amazed.

    Once again, we’ll agree to disagree. Thanks for indulging me.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2009

      Richard,

      I actually think Kalman’s piece is quite sophisticated once you spend some time with it. Please keep in mind that my difference of opinion has to do with the medium and interpretation rather than with the subjects themselves.

  • Harry Mar 3, 2009

    I’m not going to go into my opinions on how Strain achieves the “photo like” quality in his work – let’s just say I think the answer lies in the question. However, I’m a little shocked at your amendment to this post – you see Lee’s role as strictly military? Now, I cna see that coming from someone who is simply studying the period. But from someone who specializes in how the Civil War is and was remembered, I’m stunned. Maybe you should expand on this a little.

  • Harry:

    I’m interested in the process Strain uses. I am in no way anything other than a casual collector and have never delved into how Strain achieves that look. Can you elaborate?

    Tks,
    RGW

  • James F. Epperson Mar 3, 2009

    Actually, my favorite image of Lee is in Tom Lovell’s painting of the meeting in Wilmer McLean’s parlor ;-)

  • Ken Noe Mar 3, 2009

    Richard: In regard to “profit,” let me put it this way. I like money as much as the next guy, but that’s not why I write. If it was, I’d be churning out books that actually make some. Same with you I bet. Perhaps these artists are similarly motivated, I don’t claim to know and may well be wrong, but what I see is mass production of what sells.

    Now in regard to “bloodless,” technically, I think that many of their works are indeed quite realistic when it comes to landscape and objects. But faces drawn from two-dimensional photos invariably are going to be 2-D themselves, and that’s where “lifeless” comes in for me. If not for you, that’s great. Me, I’ll stick with Homer.

    As to the revivals, since you asked, of course they’re significant. But I can’t agree that they’re overlooked. Among others recently, Pete Carmichael, Gary Gallagher, Joe Glatthar, Larry Logue, Chandra Manning, James McPherson, Reid Mitchell, Jason Phillips, Bud Robertson, Aaron-Sheehan-Dean, Harry Stout, and Steve Woodworth all have not only described them but testified in some manner to their role in keeping the Confederate armies in the field. I myself have just finished a book on soldiers that includes a chapter on their religious lives including the revivals. What surprised me, by the way, was that relatively few of my subjects (post-1861 C. S. enlistees) participated in the revivals despite obvious piety in many cases. Instead, their spiritual life largely remained centered in private observance, letters home, and in small home-based groups, especially during the first revival of 1862-63. It was a more complicated story than I expected.

  • Harry Mar 3, 2009

    I don’t know for sure, but it appears at least over the past few years that Mr. Strain is employing photographic elements in his work. This is speculation on my part. I have heard others speculate along similar lines.

  • James:

    It may surprise some, but I have Lovell’s print hanging in my foyer, given to me by my father. It’s one of the first prints one sees when entering my home. But I also have this one over my mantle, one of my favorites depicting another actual event:

    http://www.gallon.com/proddetail.asp?prod=gl-cm-020

    Ken:

    I agree, writers write because they have to. (I just wish I could get my wife to understand that.)

    Perhaps overlooked was the wrong word. Yes, it has been written about extensively, as you point out. But, at least as I observe things, it seems to be “under-discussed” in general, or glossed over in broader discussions about the war, especially when you consider the more Calvinist influenced South vs. the more Unitarian North and how this impacted their worldview.

  • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2009

    Ken,

    Thanks for chiming in on this. It amazes me that someone can claim that religion in the Army of Northern Virginia has somehow been overlooked by academics.

    Richard,

    Differences between northerners and southerners have been covered extensively by academics. You should start with Harry Stout, Mark A. Noll, and Mitchell Snay. You can find additional references in each of these books that will keep you occupied for the near future.

    Harry,

    All I meant to say is that Lee’s historical significance is connected directly to his military performance. Of course, his broader story as well as our collective memory are also part of my historical interests, but all of this hinges on his success as a military man. In other words, if Lee had remained in an advisory capacity to Jefferson Davis we probably would not take as much interest in him. Hope that helps.

  • Kevin:

    I think I clarified that “overlooked” was the wrong word to use. I’m familiar with both Noll and Snay, but not Stout. Thank you for the recommendation.

    My final point was that it does not often come up in broader discussions, at least that is my personal observation.

    But I still can’t get any takers to comment on “I looked deep into his [Lincoln’s] eyes and found that I was falling in love.”

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2009

      I interpreted that particular passage as part of the broader narrative. One of the things that I find so interesting is how much of her narrative is open to interpretation. Honestly, I don’t know what Klarman means by it. Overall, I think her piece is quite sophisticated, though I know we disagree. Sorry I can’t be more help to you.

  • I wonder if there will be any other takers. Thanks Kevin, and thanks again for indulging me.

    RGW

  • Ken Noe Mar 3, 2009

    I’ve never found Lincoln’s eyes all that dreamy, if that helps. But maybe that’s just me. As for Civil War era religion, I do think it deserves more study in comparison to other topics, and we’ve started to see that in this decade beginning with the big Miller/Stout/Wilson collection. I’m further struck that two of the four dissertations I’ve directed to completion at Auburn focus on religion, with at least two others in the offing. Something’s happening. One of those students, by the way, Bruce Gourley, also produced a nice bibliographic essay running up through 2002 that’s available online:

    http://www.brucegourley.com/civilwar/gourleyhistor1.htm

    Pardon the plug :-)

  • “I’m further struck that two of the four dissertations I’ve directed to completion at Auburn focus on religion, with at least two others in the offing. Something’s happening.”

    That’s very interesting. Thanks for responding Ken.

  • Larry Cebula Mar 3, 2009
  • Michael Lynch Mar 3, 2009

    Mr. Williams, I’ll take you up on it and comment on infatuation with historical figures. I agree that Lincoln is an odd subject for this kind of thing, but the emotion itself makes perfect sense. Ever seen photos of his sister-in-law, Emilie Todd Helm? WOW! What a fox.

    Larry Daniel addresses religious revivals in the Army of Tennessee in his book on that army’s soldiers, if I remember correctly.

    –ML

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2009

      Michael,

      He does indeed. The book in question is Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee (University of North Carolina Press).

  • Peter Mar 3, 2009

    Well, the sentiment about Lincoln in the Klarman piece is all satirical. I see her work to say that any “sentimentality” people have about Lincoln is based on their own fantasies and desires rather than historical understanding (the bit about all of the Lincoln books she knows about but hasn’t read a word of). Or that the sentimentality people feel for Lincoln has to do with the fact that he ties them to the past because they can consume any and all things Lincoln, no matter how oddball these things might be (and as she points out, you can use Lincon [$5 bills] to consume Lincoln). Just being able to say this about Klarman’s wo rk show why I find the John Paul Strain stuff dull and boring. It doesn’t make you think. And don’t resort to the technical skills of the artists bit; they’re good enough at what they do, but if I want to see technical skill, I’ll go look at a Caravaggio or Vermeer. I don’t see any point to it hanging the Civil War stuff around except to show your interest in particular people and the Civil War, which is fine.

  • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2009

    Peter,

    That’s a really interesting interpretation. I actually didn’t pick up on the satire and, from what I read in the comments section, neither did most of her readers. I tended to see it more as a stream of consciousness bit that touched on various aspects of Lincoln in popular memory and culture with some international flavor thrown in just to keep things grounded in proper context. Her reference to falling in love with Lincoln seemed to me to reflect the extremes to which some claim to identify with the man.

    You are right re: the simplicity of Strain and others. There is nothing worth reflecting on in their work. In fact, the piece that Richard referenced might just as well have been called, “Guys on Horses Riding Through the Woods.” What’s the difference?

  • Peter Mar 3, 2009

    I don’t want to push the satire too far, but I thought it was interesting that she introduced the money aspect in early on, and made constanst references to commercial appropriations of Lincoln that ultimately had little to do with him. Maybe satire is the wrong word. At any rate, I thought there was some definite point to how Kalman undermines the certainty of things that she says about Lincoln; there are an awful lot of “maybe…maybe nots.” Maybe I am reading this thing too closely, but it seemed to me that at once it was a sincere “I really love Lincoln” but also pointed out the absurdity of that statement. I thought her particular folksy-ish style reinforces all of this. I saw the Tzar and the emperor of Japan as a way to underscore why we “love” Lincoln – because he is us and our country. Note the last words, in the embroidered sampler (the American folk piece par excellance) “we must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.” Disenthrall ourselves from what? Buying French Toast a la Lincoln at the Lincoln Diner? I read the piece, in a way, as a gentle critique of the folks who go the extreme.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2009

      It’s interesting to me that she decided to begin the story with Lincoln’s assassination. From that point on she effectively interweaves historical context, personal attachment and a great deal of popular memory. The image in which she expresses her “love” for Lincoln is the only actual photograph. There is, indeed, something very seductive about that image. I’m still thinking about your last comment, which is quite thought provoking. Thanks Peter.

  • Jason Phillips Mar 4, 2009

    My reaction to Kalman was similar to Peter’s. Though it’s very funny, her essay makes a serious point about how and why people connect with the past. She’s lampooning people who study history because they feel an emotional attachment with a particular time or figure. For such enthusiasts, any fact about that person or era carries equal value because they all elicit the same warm feeling that the novice seeks. She mocks this collection of facts in many ways (the school-girl crush quality of her doodling, the randomness of her information about Lincoln, the admission that she hasn’t read any scholarship about her subject, the search for Lincoln everywhere–even on the Lincoln diner menu). Such enthusiasts are diametrically opposed to historians who study history for intellectual growth not emotional attachment. If they read scholarship it’s primarily to collect new facts and get emotionally closer to their love interest. They find amusement and entertainment where scholars seek significance and meaning.

  • John Maass Mar 5, 2009

    Clicking the link Mr. Williams provides to the Strain piece depicting Lee, Stuart, Jackson, & Pelham leaving a worship service in Winter (which looks to me much like a Thomas Kincaid abomination, but that’s another matter), the product description states that “Leaders such as Lee, Jackson, and Stuart would call on many such men to sacrifice and give all for their country. It was also their hope and prayer that if the day came when they did not return to camp with their companions, the Lord would embrace them and say, ‘Well done my brave Christian Soldier.’ ” How presumptuous to assume that God would welcome and praise those who had just spent years killing their fellow human beings, and in the cause defending the subjugation of other men! Would God really say, in effect, “great job slaughtering those guys! Come on in!” ??

  • Kevin Levin Mar 5, 2009

    John,

    You obviously didn’t receive the memo: God was on the side of the Confederacy. Nice to hear from you.

  • John Maass Mar 5, 2009

    Ooops, forgot.

    I will also refrain from invoking Jackson’s sunday school in Lexington.

  • Anonymous Mar 8, 2009

    I wait in rapt anticipation of the John Paul Strain depiction of R.E. Lee feeding the entire Second Corps with two sides of salt pork and five biscuits of hardtack. Of course, this will be followed by the entirely historically accurate painting of James Longstreet selling out the Army of Northern Virginia for thirty pieces of silver. The tripytch will be rounded out with R.E. Lee brought to trial before Pontius Grant and crucified between two thieves.

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