Friday, January 22, 2010


The Hope paintings which grace the lower level of the Visitor Center at Antietam are not only a treasured possession of the the people of the United States, but also a remarkable eyewitness interpretation of the Battle of Antietam, an interpretation which utilizes the talents of more than just the artist James Hope.

The five panoramic murals depict the action of the 13 hour battle of Antietam  on September 17, 1862.  The paintings carry a special veracity as they were the creation of James Hope, a participant in the battle, as a captain in the 2nd Vermont Regiment of Volunteer Infantry.

The paintings are based upon not only his own recollections but on the recollections of other participants, through interviews, letters, diaries, and, I realized this afternoon, photographs.

Just prior to locking up for the day, I found myself studying the details of the panel which depicts the so-called "morning phase" of the battle.  Part of the charm of Hope's rendering is the license he takes with actual events, license which may not be chronologically correct but which acts as an intensifier providing, for the viewer, a powerful and compelling glimpse of the drama, and horror, of
 America's bloodiest day.

One vignette, in particular caught my attention, as there was a certain familiarity to it.

Where had I seen this grouping before?
Then a light went on and I proceeded up to the lobby to look at the photo mural that greets visitors upon their arrival.

There's that same vignette, Captain Parker's shattered battery in the foreground with Dunker Church in the background.

Nearly detail-for-detail from the crooked knee...

of this fallen gunner...

to the Vee-shaped aspect...

of this man's feet.

Like the rest of us, James Hope was forever influenced by the jarring imagery of photographer Alexander Gardner.  Rather than being merely derivative, I think this is a graphic example of documentary evidence  informing artistic interpretation.  It also causes me to wonder if Gardner and Hope had ever met, and what that meeting may have been like.

Captain James Hope

Trying to pay attention,
just north of Sharpsburg,

Ranger Mannie


Rebecca said...

I remember seeing those depictions when I visited last year. They are quite memorable, as Gardner's photographs also are.

Chris Evans said...

I have always loved those paintings. I liked that the Time Life Civil War series had a very good section showing Hope's various paintings of Antietam including his gruesome one on the Bloody Lane. I would very much like to see them in person.