Sunday, August 3, 2014

One Life: Grant and Lee: "It is well that war is so terrible..."

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through May 25, 2015

The latest installment in the excellent "One Life" series features Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee; half the room is devoted to one and half to the other.  Turn in one direction as you enter the room to learn about Grant and turn in the other direction to learn about Lee.  Directly across from the door are two representations of the meeting at Appomattox Courthouse.

The look of the room is excellent.  The walls are painted a deep maroon color, and the windows have matching drapes in an 1860s style.  You feel as if you've stepped into a Civil War-era parlor.  The content is also quite informative.  I know a little about the Civil War, as my husband is quite interested in the period and a few stray facts have entered by mind by osmosis, but I'm certainly no expert.  I learned about the final year of the war and the Battle of the Wilderness, in which Grant pressed his numerical advantage in troops to finally defeat the Confederate Army.

My quarrel with this exhibit is that it's part of the "One Life" series.  It's not one life; it's two.  The whole point of "One Life" is to showcase one person, not to show the relationship between two people, no matter how intertwined their lives.  If the Portrait Gallery would like to start a new series called "Two Lives" and set up displays showing other pairs of important Americans, I'm all for it.  As it is, this just doesn't belong.  I think they could have set this up, either in another space, or in the "One Life" room (they could have taken a hiatus from "One Life" to accommodate this) as part of their Civil War displays, and I would have been all for it.  As part of "One Life," it just makes no sense.

Verdict: I've recommended this to friends with an interest in the Civil War, but you'll need to be a bit less anal retentive than I am in order to get over the fact that it isn't "One Life."

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