The Revolutionary War took place after the thirteen American colonies declared their independence from Britain in 1776. Each side partook in a war that lasted until 1783. George Washington was commander-in-chief of the American forces, and Benedict Arnold was also on the confederate side of the Americans. Both of these important Generals are famous to this day, yet for very different reasons. Washington became the first President of the United States of America because of his noble actions during the war. Conversely, Arnold was unhappy with Congress’ decision to pursue charges of money-related issues against him, and also with their lack of interest in promoting him. His anger turned into his changing of sides, thus becoming a traitor of the American Revolution. He decided to surrender a fort to the British, but his plan was foiled because of documents changing hands with the wrong people. Arnold has since been known as a traitor, whereas Washington is one of the most celebrated figures in American history.
Both of these men are depicted in works currently on view at the NBMAA.
Mary Dwyer’s General George Washington Resigns is part of the WomenArtists@NewBritainMuseum Exhibition. Dwyer’s minimalistic depiction of George Washington emphasizes his humanistic features, and overall depicts him in a softer light. The female figures behind him demonstrate the role of women in the founding of America. According to the exhibition catalogue, Dwyer’s reason for creating the narrative work was to do just that – bring forth women to acknowledge their roles in the early history of our country. Equality in history is often overlooked because of our historically patriarchal society. Do you feel this depiction of George Washington is accurate, stylized, or overly softened because of the feminist context?
A second work depicting George Washington is a portrait of him modeled after Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait from 1795. It has been associated with Foeiqua, a Chinese artist known for copying famous paintings around this period. George Washington is shown with a curiously old face, and an emphasis on his human attributes. This is a bit stylized like Dwyer’s, but portrays him in the honorable position he is commonly associated with. Do you think it is necessarily better than the “original” image (seen on the one dollar bill?) How do they differ? His noble deeds are worthy of a painting this majestic, yet he retains his humanistic qualities which can be noticeably lacking in traditional portraits of the period.
Arnold is shown in one illustration on display as part of the Sanford B. D. Low Illustration Collection that has a twenty highlights recently installed in the Illustration Gallery. David Blossom’s Benedict Arnold depicts Arnold as a casual geometric figure, lounging against an off-white background. The image minimalistic, as was Dwyer’s, yet Arnold is much more apparent because of the contrast. The depiction is undoubtedly a reflection of his legacy as a traitor in American History. If his role had been a noble one like that of Washington, how might an illustration of him created in the 20th century differ from this one?
All three of these artworks bring these famous men down to a human level, and, in two cases,to a level of minimalistic abstraction. The Revolutionary War was a pivotal time in our country’s history, and both of these men are shown in a-typical portrayals. Does this reflect America’s attitude towards the war during different time periods?
Come take a look at a different depiction of the generals who defined this war, and in turn, the formation of our country. All are on view in different galleries, so you will be able to gain a better sense of the art that NBMAA has to offer!