Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Confederate Sketches of Adalbert Volck

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through January 21, 2013

 This small exhibit is the latest in the Portrait Gallery's series of shows dealing with the Civil War.  I'm assuming it's in honor of the War's sesquicentennial (there's a word you don't get to use often).  It's set up in a alcove close to portraits of Civil War figures on the first floor.

Adalbert Volck was a Baltimore dentist with Confederate sympathies.  A German immigrant (as you might have guessed from his name), he was bothered by the Northern slant displayed by all of the newspapers and magazines of the time.  Determined to do something to present the Southern cause in a favorable light, he began drawing sketches under an assumed name.  He collected these in a publication, Sketches from the Civil War in North America.  The core of this publication is on display in this show.

Volck, and others at the time, believed that the North was making war on the South in part for profit.  In one of his drawings, he refers to it as the "Holy War of the Contractors."  Lincoln he portrayed as the devil incarnate - the sketch pictured above is typical.  It's disconcerting to see anything about Lincoln that isn't utterly reverent, especially now that the movie "Lincoln" has just come out.  These pictures are distinctly unflattering.

Southerners, on the other hand, are depicted as pious people, set upon pitilessly by the North.  Jackson's soldiers are drawn with their heads bowed in prayer, brave Marylanders are shown in a boat crossing the Potomac to join the rebels (in a sketch reminiscent of Washington Crossing the Delaware), and residents of Vicksburg, Mississippi are shown hiding out in caves during the siege of that city.  I had no idea people did this, but apparently, this is true, and not just propaganda.  One of his sketches shows Southern citizens giving up their church bells to be melted down and made into cannonballs.  I could not help but think this was an interesting turn on the "swords into plowshares" quote from the Bible.

In later years, Volck regretted his sketches of Lincoln, who he described as "great and good." He stood by his other work, however, so he did not recant his support for the Southern cause.

Verdict: Well worth a look, if you're in the Portrait Gallery or Museum of American Art anyway.  Not large enough to make a full lunchtime trip, but you could easily combine it with a visit to the One Life show on Amelia Earhart, which is only a few steps away.

No comments:

Post a Comment