Date of Degree

6-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor

Katherine E. Manthorne

Committee Members

Sally Webster

Joshua Brown

Emily D. Shapiro

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Art and Architecture | American Studies | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology

Keywords

American Art, American Studies, Nineteenth Century, Civil War, African American Studies

Abstract

This dissertation is the first study dedicated to the Civil War marine paintings of Xanthus Smith (1839-1929), a nineteenth-century American artist who served in the Union Navy and depicted the naval war for over fifty years. In 1862, Smith was stationed in Port Royal, South Carolina, where he witnessed the Port Royal Experiment: a groundbreaking federal initiative to transition the slaves of the surrounding Sea Islands to citizenship and a free labor cotton economy. Smith's earliest wartime paintings document the dawn of freedom in the Sea Islands, but he eventually ceased to picture the war's sociopolitical impact in favor of heroic martial imagery that masked the Civil War’s racial unrest, political transformations, and violence. Building on the scholarship of David Blight and Kirk Savage, I examine Smith’s work through the interpretive lens of Civil War memory, arguing that he participated in a culture of remembrance that jettisoned the fraught legacy of emancipation to facilitate the reunion of white Americans. This project draws on Smith’s unpublished paintings, drawings, and archival materials to prompt a fresh consideration of race and Civil War memory in nineteenth-century American art, thereby enriching the understanding of artistic responses to the Civil War and its aftermath.

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