New Book | Iconoclasm in New York: Revolution to Reenactment

Posted in books by Editor on July 4, 2019

Scheduled for publication this fall from Penn State UP:

Wendy Bellion, Iconoclasm in New York: Revolution to Reenactment (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019), 280 pages, ISBN: 978-0271083643, $125.

King George III will not stay on the ground. Ever since a crowd in New York City toppled his equestrian statue in 1776, burying some of the parts and melting the rest into bullets, the king has been riding back into American culture, raising his gilded head in visual representations and reappearing as fragments. In this book, Wendy Bellion asks why Americans destroyed the statue of George III—and why they keep bringing it back.

Locating the statue’s destruction in a transatlantic space of radical protest and material violence—and tracing its resurrection through pictures and performances—Bellion advances a history of American art that looks beyond familiar narratives of paintings and polite spectators to encompass a riotous cast of public sculptures and liberty poles, impassioned crowds and street protests, performative smashings and yearning re-creations. Bellion argues that iconoclasm mobilized a central paradox of the national imaginary: it was at once a destructive phenomenon through which Americans enacted their independence and a creative phenomenon through which they continued to enact British cultural identities. Persuasive and engaging, Iconoclasm in New York demonstrates how British monuments gave rise to an American creation story. This fascinating cultural history will captivate art historians, specialists in iconoclasm, and general readers interested in American history and New York City.

Wendy Bellion is Professor and Sewell C. Biggs Chair of American Art History at the University of Delaware. She is the author of the award-winning Citizen Spectator: Art, Illusion, and Visual Perception in Early National America.

Exhibition | Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on July 4, 2019

Press release (15 May 2019) for the exhibition:

Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier
Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, 28 September 2019 — 17 March 2020

Exploring the toll of war and revolution through the eyes of Irish soldier Richard St. George

Thomas Gainsborough, Portrait of Richard St. George, 1776 (Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria).

Tickets are now on sale for the upcoming special exhibition Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier, which opens on 28 September 2019 and runs through 17 February 2020 at the Museum of the American Revolution, the exhibition’s exclusive venue. Based on new discoveries made by the Museum’s curators, Cost of Revolution presents the untold story of Richard St. George, an Irish soldier and artist whose personal trauma and untimely death provide a window into the entangled histories of the American Revolution and the ensuing Irish Revolution of 1798.

“You may not have heard the name Richard St. George before, but you’ll be astonished by what his life can tell us about America and Ireland in the Age of Revolutions,” said Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, President and CEO of the Museum of the American Revolution. “This exhibit extends the Museum’s internationally acclaimed story-driven approach onto the global stage to examine the broader influence of the American Revolution through St. George’s remarkable personal journey.”

As a young officer in the British Army, Richard St. George crossed the Atlantic in 1776 to try and stop the growing American Revolution. He returned home to Ireland after surviving a severe head wound at the Battle of Germantown, near Philadelphia, in 1777. Back in Ireland, he found his native country roiled by the effects of the revolutionary spirit sweeping across America and Europe. St George became an outspoken critic of the growing movement to establish an Irish republic independent from the British Empire in the 1790s. A few months before the outbreak of the Irish Revolution of 1798, St. George’s tenants ambushed and killed him.

The 5,000-square-foot exhibition will chronicle St. George’s dramatic journey with more than 100 artifacts, manuscripts, and works of art from Australia, Ireland, England, and the United States, many of which will be on display in America for the first time. It will also present one of the largest collections of objects from Ireland’s 18th-century revolutionary history and war for independence ever displayed in Philadelphia.

Five portraits of Richard St. George—created over the span of 25 years—are known to survive and will be reunited in this exhibit for the first time since they left the possession of St. George’s descendants more than a century ago. Every known piece of surviving artwork by St. George himself—including cartoons, sketches from his military service in America, and a self-portrait—also will be assembled for the first time in this exhibit. Together, the portraits, cartoons, and sketches reveal the physical and emotional toll of revolution.

Key Artifacts

Xavier della Gatta, Painting of the Battle of Germantown, 1782 (Philadelphia: Museum of the American Revolution).

• A portrait of Richard St. George by Thomas Gainsborough (1776) depicting him just before he shipped out for New York to fight against the growing American Revolution, on loan from Australia’s National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne).
• Three portraits of Richard St. George by Irish artist Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1790s) that show St. George as he struggled to manage the pain of the traumatic headwound he received during the American Revolutionary War. One of the portraits, on loan from the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, depicts him grief-stricken, mourning at his wife’s tomb. Hamilton painted this portrait as a movement for Irish independence, which St. George opposed, was on the rise.
• A signed self-portrait of Richard St. George, recently donated to the Museum, that depicts him in a forlorn landscape wearing a silk head wrap to cover the scars of his head wound. This portrait is a rare example of art created by a veteran of the American Revolutionary War that refers to personal pain sustained during the War.
• Paintings of the Battles of Paoli and Germantown by Italian artist Xavier della Gatta that St. George helped to create in 1782 to reflect on his participation in those battles. The paintings are in the Museum’s permanent collection.
• The British Army uniform coat and pistol that belonged to Richard St. George’s grandfather, on loan from the National Army Museum in London.
• The 1775 bound maps of the estate of Richard St. George in County Galway, on loan from the Galway County Council Archives in Galway, Ireland.
• A trephine, or skull saw, of the type that was used to operate on Richard St. George’s head following the Battle of Germantown, on loan from the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
• American illustrator Howard Pyle’s 1898 painting The Attack upon the Chew House, which depicts the carnage of the Battle of Germantown, on loan from the Delaware Art Museum.
• The red uniform coat worn by British Army Lieutenant Ely Dagworthy on loan from Dumbarton House and the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America.
• The August 24, 1776 Leinster Journal, one of the first printings of the American Declaration of Independence in an Irish newspaper, on loan from the National Library of Ireland in Dublin, Ireland.
• A green uniform coat worn by Irish Revolutionary Henry Joy McCracken and a pike head carried by the United Irishmen during Ireland’s fight for independence from Great Britain in 1798, on loan from the National Museums of Northern Ireland (Ulster Museum) in Belfast.
• A rare silk flag carried by the Delaware militia that the British light infantry captured during the Philadelphia Campaign of 1777, on loan from the Delaware Historical Society.
• Richard St. George’s personal sketches from the American Revolutionary War, on loan from a private collection. One sketch depicts St. George being carted off the battlefield following his wounding at the Battle of Germantown in 1777.
• Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s ribbon and Theobald Wolfe Tone’s membership certificate from the United Irishmen, on loan from the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. Both Fitzgerald and Wolfe Tone died while helping to lead the United Irishmen in their struggle for Irish independence from Great Britain in 1798. The ribbon, taken from Fitzgerald’s body after his death, served as a memento of the Irish Revolution and was used to inspire later Revolutionaries in South America.

Programming Highlights

• Saturday, September 28 and Sunday, September 29, the exhibit’s opening weekend, the Museum’s flagship living history event, Occupied Philadelphia, will bring together dozens of costumed interpreters to recreate the 1777–78 British occupation of Philadelphia on the Museum’s outdoor plaza.
• Tuesday, October 1, the Museum will host an evening lecture by Martin Mansergh, a collateral descendant of Richard St. George and a noted historian who is a former Irish Fianna Fáil politician and played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process.
• Friday, October 3 through Sunday, October 5, the Museum will host the 2019 International Conference on the American Revolution in partnership with the Pritzker Military Museum and Library. This event will bring noted historians, writers, and curators from Ireland, Scotland, England, and the United States together to explore military, political, social, and artistic themes from the Age of Revolutions.
• The exhibition will come to life with special events and daily programs exploring the artistic and cultural traditions of Richard St George’s world. Highlights include musical and theatrical performances, artisan workshops and demonstrations, talks by noted historians as part of the Museum’s Read the Revolution series, and tours of the exhibition.

Deborah Sampson, Her Diary, and Women in the American Revolution

Posted in exhibitions, museums by Editor on July 4, 2019

As reported this week by in The New York Times:

Alison Leigh Cowan, “The Woman Who Sneaked into George Washington’s Army,” The New York Times (2 July 2019). A rediscovered diary, now at the Museum of the American Revolution, sheds light on the life of Deborah Sampson, who fought in the Continental Army.

Hers has always been one of the more astonishing, if little-known, tales of the American Revolution: a woman who stitched herself a uniform, posed as a man and served at least 17 months in an elite unit of the Continental Army. Wounded at least twice, Deborah Sampson carried a musket ball inside her till the day she died in 1827.

While historians agree that Sampson served in uniform and spilled blood for her country, gaps in the account have long led some to wonder whether her tale had been romanticized and embellished — possibly even by her.

Did she fight in the decisive Battle of Yorktown, as she later insisted on multiple occasions? And how did she keep her secret for the many months she served in Washington’s light infantry?

Now, scholars say the discovery of a long-forgotten diary, recorded more than 200 years ago by a Massachusetts neighbor of Sampson, is addressing some of the questions and sharpening our understanding of one of the few women to take on a combat role during the Revolution.

“Deb Sampson, her story is mostly lost to history,’’ said Dr. Philip Mead, the chief historian and director of curatorial affairs of the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. “So, finding a little piece of it is even more important than finding another piece of George Washington’s history.”

The museum bought the diary for an undisclosed sum after Dr. Mead spotted it at a New Hampshire antiques show last summer. He plans to showcase it next year with other items about the role American women played in the Revolution, as part of a larger celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. . . .

The full article is available here»

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