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War News from Mexico and The Chelsea Pensioners: Richard Caton Woodville and the Democratized Reception of War News

Conrad Rudolph und Jason Weems

Online veröffentlicht:

23 Nov 2022



Richard Caton Woodville’s 1848 painting War News from Mexico, made during his studies at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, is among the most iconic American images from before the Civil War (1861–1865). Traditionally, it has been seen as a sentimentalized and politically ambiguous representation of the American “middling sort.” What has gone completely unnoticed is that Woodville systematically adapted every single figure and the basic composition from an even better-known painting by another noted genre painter, the 1822 Chelsea Pensioners by David Wilkie. But whereas Wilke presented an idealized depiction of the British “common sort,” Woodville – perhaps because of his perspective from the Revolutions of 1848 in Germany – constructed a critical, declarative, and even edgy view of American democracy compromised by the inherent contradiction of slavery. Such a claim of a direct political message for War News goes against a preponderance of scholarship that positions the artist (and to a degree all antebellum genre painting) as non-committal.

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