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A Soldiers View of Civil War Charleston

April 8 -July 10, 2011


The Gibbes Museum of Art is presenting A Soldiers View of Civil War Charleston from April 8 through July 10, 2011, to coincide with the 150th anniversary observance of the start of the Civil War.

A Soldiers View features paintings depicting the batteries and forts around Charleston Harbor as painted by Conrad Wise Chapman (1842-1910) during the Civil War. The exhibition includes multiple paintings of Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie and a depiction of the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine ever to sink an enemy ship. The Hunley was painted just two weeks before its final voyage. Though Conrad Wise Chapman spent many of his formative years in Rome, the American-born artist always considered himself a Southerner. In 1861, Chapman left Rome to enlist in the Confederate Army. As a soldier under the charge of General P. G. T. Beauregard, Chapman created his remarkable paintings, displayed for the first time in Charleston. The majority of these paintings are on loan to the Gibbes from The Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia.

"This is the first time our entire collection of Chapman paintings have been exhibited outside of Richmond," stated Waite Rawls, CEO and President of The Museum of the Confederacy, "and Charleston is clearly the place for that to happen. We are especially indebted to the Carolina Yacht Club for its assistance in conserving this important collection."

 

(above: Conrad Wise Chapman (American, 1842-1910), The Flag of Sumter, 1864, Oil on board. Courtesy of The Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia)

 

(above: Conrad Wise Chapman (American, 1842-1910), Submarine Torpedo Boat H. L. Hunley, Dec. 6, 1863, 1864, Oil on board. Courtesy of The Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia)


Introductory wall panel for A Soldiers View of Civil War Charleston and Stephen Marc: Passage on the Underground Railroad

Perspectives on the Civil War
 
By Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art
 
Balancing the past with the present is a goal for all we do at the Gibbes Museum of Art. This April, the past is very much on our minds as we observe the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, marked by the bombardment of Fort Sumter that began on April 12, 1861. The Civil War is an incredibly significant part of our history, but also a time period that elicits a great deal of emotion, both positive and negative. The Gibbes is careful to approach the Civil War -- and all eras of history -- with great cultural sensitivity. As an institution that interprets art and history, we are charged with presenting a fair and balanced view while introducing our audiences to new and interesting ways of thinking about art and the world around us. This is a task we take very seriously, and one that played a role in the selection of our April exhibitions: A Soldier's View of Civil War Charleston and Stephen Marc: Passage on the Underground Railroad.
 
Some two years ago when the Gibbes staff began to plan this exhibition season, we knew we wanted to offer two very different perspectives on the Civil War. Pairing 19th century works with those of a contemporary artist was a natural decision. For the 19th century perspective, the Gibbes was fortunate to secure the loan of 31 paintings from The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. This series of paintings was created in 1864 by the Confederate soldier and artist Conrad Wise Chapman. Chapman was stationed in Charleston and assigned by General P. G. T. Beauregard to create a pictorial record of the Confederate defenses surrounding Charleston Harbor. He depicted the various forts and batteries throughout the area, including multiple renderings of Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie and a painting of the H. L. Hunley, the first submarine to sink an enemy ship. Frequently reproduced in Civil War publications, this significant series of paintings will be showcased together for the first time in Charleston.
 
As a counterpoint to Chapman's historical paintings, the Gibbes selected the work of contemporary photographer Stephen Marc. For the past decade, Marc has photographed and researched sites on the Underground Railroad. Whereas Chapman's work focuses on the experiences of soldiers on the front lines, Marc conveys the stories of slaves who traveled the Underground Railroad in pursuit of freedom and those who helped them along their journey. To accomplish this, Marc conducted primary research in archives and historical societies throughout the United States. He gathered documents, artifacts, and ephemera from his research and digitally combined the material with contemporary photographs of the Underground Railroad sites. The resulting montages elegantly weave together the past and present and challenge viewers to contemplate the legacy of the Civil War today.
 
It is our hope that these two exhibitions mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War in a meaningful way. Careful thought and consideration has gone into the organization of each exhibition, and hopefully they generate interesting conversations among our museum visitors.
 
Pam Wall is Curator of Exhibitions at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Introductory wall panel for A Soldier's View of Civil War Charleston

Conrad Wise Chapman was born in Washington, DC in 1842. As a young child, his family moved to Rome, Italy where he received training from his artist father John Gadsby Chapman, a Virginia native. Despite being raised in Italy, Conrad felt a deep connection to his family's southern roots. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in a Kentucky regiment of the Confederate Army. Chapman served in the West and was wounded in the Battle of Shiloh. After recovering, he was transferred to a Virginia regiment under the command of General Henry A. Wise, a friend of Chapman's father. In September 1863, Chapman's regiment was sent to Charleston, South Carolina.
 
In Charleston, General P. G. T. Beauregard assigned Chapman to create a pictorial record of the Confederate defenses surrounding Charleston Harbor. The resulting body of work is on view in this exhibition. The subject matter for each painting was sketched in Charleston between September 1863 and March 1864. The finished paintings were created in Rome, where Chapman was on furlough visiting family from April to December 1864. When completed, the series of 31 small paintings remained in the Chapman family for over thirty years. In 1898, the series was sold to Granville Valentine of Richmond, Virginia for a total of $1,500. In the same year, Valentine sold the series to the Confederate Memorial Literary Society in Richmond, known today as The Museum of the Confederacy. Shown together for the first time in Charleston, Chapman's paintings are a valuable record of the Civil War and illuminate an incredibly significant part of Charleston's history.

 

Related Programming:

Lecture by James McPherson
 
Reflections on the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War
Volunteers in Blue and Gray: Why They Fought
 
Tuesday, April 12, at 7pm
Free, reservations are not required but are suggested by calling 843.722.2706, ext. 22.
 
James M. McPherson is an American Civil War historian and the George Henry Davis 1986 Professor Emeritus of United States History at Princeton University. His lecture will focus on the soldiers who volunteered to fight during this momentous event in American history. McPherson is the author of numerous books on the Civil War including For Cause and Comrades, winner of the Lincoln Prize; Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War; and his Pulitzer Prize winner Battle Cry of Freedom. This lecture is part of the Lowcountry Civil War Sesquicentennial Commemoration, organized by the Fort Sumter-Fort Moultrie Historical Trust (www.sccivilwar.org).

 

Lecture by Tim Bolton
 
Winslow Homer and the Civil War
 
Thursday, April 14, 6pm
Free for Members; fee for Non-Members. 843.722.2706, ext. 22 www.gibbesmuseum.org/events
 
Architect and art historian Kenyon (Tim) C. Bolton III will provide insight into Winslow Homer's development at the beginning of his career. Homer's painted subjects of the Civil War culminated in the single most important image to symbolize that period. When the Civil War began in 1861, Winslow Homer was a young man beginning his artistic career. As a special correspondent for Harper's Weekly, Homer spent extended periods of time on the front lines creating sketches of the soldiers and events he witnessed. Many of his sketches were reproduced in Harper's as wood engravings, while others were later developed into oil paintings. Homer went on to achieve great success and is recognized as one of the most significant American artists of the nineteenth century.
 
Dr. Bolton holds a Ph.D. in art history from Harvard University.
 

(above: Conrad Wise Chapman (American, 1842-1910), Bombardment of Fort Moultrie, Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, 1864, Oil on canvas. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Winnie Edwards Murray Fund)

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