Monday, October 28, 2019

Paris, Capital of Fashion at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City

Paris, Capital of Fashion

Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology   
September 6, 2019 - January 

Reviewed by Ed Voves 
Original Photography by Anne Lloyd
The word "fashion" connotes change.  This is true for clothing - and for just about everything else. "New Look" was a great slogan for the post-World War II revolution in style. But the elegance of a robe à la française from the 1700's or the stylish simplicity of a Chanel "little black dress" can re-emerge in new fashion designs at any time. Creativity in haute couture is timeless yet radical, visionary while also being nostalgic.

“Might it be possible to awaken the clothes of long-gone eras and infuse them with the spirit of today?” 

Nicolas Ghesquière raised that issue with his Spring/Summer 2018 collection for Louis Vuitton. Paris, Capital of Fashion, a major exhibition at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, seconds the motion.

Ghesquière replied to his own question with an eclectic mix of brocade frock coats, straight out of the Ancien Regime, matched with silk running shorts. If the result bordered more on children's dress-up than serious fashion, the answer is still yes!

Paris, Capital of Fashion is a brilliantly orchestrated exhibition, displaying over one hundred stunning dresses and accessories, an homage to the court of Versailles and a large-format photo of Garment District workers "schelepping" racks of dresses to the show room in 1955.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) 
Red Taffeta Evening Gown by Jacques Fath (ca.1953) and Photo by Al Ravenna, 
N.Y. World Telegram and Sun, of garment district workers in New York City,1955

Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, organized Paris, Capital of Fashion in general chronological order. There are, however, numerous compare/contrast displays complementing the basic timeline. A good example of this is the juxtaposition of John Galliano's embroidered faille dress with underskirt and metal front piece, 2000-2001, posed next to an authentic robe à la française, dated 1755-1760.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Robe à la française, (left) and
 John Galliano’s Marie Antoinette Dress, 2000-2001

Rather menacingly, Galliano placed two portraits of Marie Antoinette on the billowing skirts of the dress he designed, one showing her as the shepherdess of the Trianon while on the other side she wears the bonnet rouge of the Revolutionary tribunal who sentenced her to death in 1793.

Galliano's pointed reference to Marie Antoinette's encounter with Madame Guillotine is not an isolated vignette in the exhibition. As we will discuss, Paris, Capital of Fashion offers serious reflection on the interaction of clothing styles and the historical eras in which they were made and worn.

Such revealing insights in no way inhibit our appreciation of this marvelous, indeed radiant, display of some of the most beautiful dresses ever made. Whether you are a scholar of clothing design, a "fashionista" or an eclectic lover of art exhibitions, Paris, Capital of Fashion is a must-see exhibit and one which will be remembered for a very long time.

Anne Lloyld, Photo (2019) Gallery view of Paris, Capital of Fashion,    

With so much to see and admire, this is an exhibition which needs a visually stunning focus point - and it has one! A spectacular "runway" like display features sensational twentieth century haute couture under the heading: Fashion, Art, Luxury.

Beginning at left with a sumptuous red cape by Coco Channel (1927), the fashion show proceeds with a blue embroidered silk shantung dress by Christian Dior (1952), “Soirée de Paris” black silk velvet dress with replica silk satin sash by Yves Saint Laurent for Christian Dior (1955), Jean Paul Gaultier's black silk crepe dress and gold lamé overdress with paniers (1998), Christian Dior, “Mystère de New York” black haute couture chiffon over silk faille dress (1955), Balmain's “Chateau Haut Brion” red silk satin dress (1955-1956) and Agnès-Drecoll's yellow silk satin and rhinestone evening dress (ca.1934).

Had Paris, Capital of Fashion been limited merely to this central gallery, it would have still been a outstanding exhibition. Such is the "show-stopper" quality of each of these dresses. The Chanel cape and the shimmering Agnès-Drecoll evening dress vividly bring to life the elegant sensuality of Paris between the World Wars.

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, Red Doubled Silk Crepe de Chine Evening Cape,1927
Agnes-Drecoll, Yellow Silk Satin and Rhinestone Evening Dress, ca.1934

While our eyes may linger on these superlative examples of haute couture, some of the less striking dresses and men's suits provide fascinating insights into how the "times" influenced the clothes people wore. The fashion trend-setters in Revolutionary France following the years of terror, 1793-95, wore such bizarre, outlandish attire that they were deemed incredible - incroyable - if they were men, and merveleuse if they were women. Following the French Revolution and the plumes, gold braid and gore of the Napoleonic Wars, fashion assumed a more much sensible and quietly elegant style. 

This trend is reflected in a printed linen dress, c. 1837, the era of Charlotte Brontë in literature. This beautiful dress is also noteworthy for its printed motif. Almost all clothing, for rich and poor, continued to be created by hand in small shops during the first decades of the nineteenth century. But factory-printed fabric was already appearing, pointing to the divide later in the century between mass-produced "reach-me-down" clothes for the working class and haute couture (which means higher sewing) for the more well-to-do.

It was a Victorian Englishman, Frederick Charles Worth (1825-1895), who really made Paris the global fashion capital it remains to this day. Worth created the basic designs of dresses, using a well-integrated force of skilled workers to do the sewing and lavish decoration. This enabled prices to be kept within range of the newly prosperous middle class of France during the Second Empire, 1852-1870, and affluent Americans following the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865. 

Taking a tour of Europe required a mandatory visit to Paris. Worth was particularly skillful in encouraging American clients to return home with at least one "Worth" like this gorgeous blue day dress, dating to 1865-1866.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) 
House of Worth Blue Ribbed Silk Ball Gown, 1866-67

The 1920's saw another shift in style, with a more relaxed, comfortable feel in French women's attire. Gone were the restrictive "hobble" skirts and frumpy dresses of the World War I years. On view is a stylish, free-flowing day dress from the House of Chanel, in the same daring red of the 1927 Chanel cape, and an ensemble of high-end, factory-made leisure attire, just the right thing to wear to the 1928 Olympic Games in Paris.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) French Leisure Fashion for Women,1920’s

Paris, Capital of Fashion pays a great deal of well-deserved attention to Christian Dior (1905-1957). Dior revived the French fashion industry during the 1950's with the New Look in the same way that General, later President, Charles de Gaulle helped France regain a measure of its political power following the years of World War II defeat and privation. 

Christian Dior, Haute Couture Gold, Printed Silk Gauze Two-piece Dress, 1951

Dior's lavish use of fabric, seen in the dress above, recalled the Second Empire dress of the House of Worth. This shimmering, silk gauze two-piece dress, was worn by the celebrated actress Lauren Bacall, who presented it to the FIT.

Dior's influence was vast, especially with his idea of themed-fashion collections. Sadly, he died from a heart attack at the height of his powers in 1957.

The French have not maintained their commanding position as the arbiters of fashion without competition. The FIT exhibition pays a detailed look at the fabled 1973 "Battle of Versailles." Five American designers, Bill Blass, Stephen Burrows. Oscar de la Renta, Halston and Anne Klein, took-on the best couturiers of France, including Yves Saint Laurent, and won.

Stephen Burrows, Rayon Jersey Color Blocked Evening Dress, 1973

This surprising defeat did not curtail France's dominant position. Rather, it revitalized the realm of haute couture, with the eyes of the world still focused on Paris.

The FIT exhibition is epic in scope, though never exhausting.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) 
Display of Women’s Hats and Men’s Suits at the Paris, Capital of Fashion exhibit 

Hats, shoes, accessories are all examined in loving detail and due credit is given to French designers who have attempted to compete with the longstanding British domination of men's fashion.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019)
Stephen Jones (For Christian Dior), Top Hat, 2000

A principal reason why Paris, Capital of Fashion is such a sustained delight is the thoughtful and beautifully written wall texts and display captions. Valerie Steele is a superb literary stylist, making the exhibition an adventure for the mind. The following excerpt is indicative of Steele's command of words, as well as images:

The figure of the Parisienne had long been an icon of fashionable and seductive femininity, but by the later 19th century Paris itself was increasingly perceived as a feminized and sexualized city, a dream world of pleasure, in contrast to cities like London and New York, which seemed masculine and work-oriented. In her song “That’s Paris,” Mistinguette characterizes the city as a woman, “a blonde” and “queen of the world.”

As noted above, the exhibition does not shy away from controversy.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019)
 Paris, Capital of Fashion display, dealing with Original and Copied Fashion Designs

Among the hard-hitting topics examined are the piracy of French designs by foreign clothing manufacturers, including Americans, and the collaboration of French fashion houses and companies with the Nazis during the German occupation of France,1940-1944. This was not entirely a craven or self-serving act by top designers for they saved over 20,000 French women, workers in the fashion industry, from being deported as laborers for the Third Reich.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019)
Gallery view of the Paris, Capital of Fashion exhibition at The Museum at FIT

A banquet for the eye and food-for-thought to stimulate the intellect, the FIT exhibition is truly one of the outstanding art events of 2019. Rather than pile on further "superlatives" - however well-deserved - it is more appropriate to conclude this review with another quote from the exhibition wall texts:

In her Lettres Parisiennes (1844), Madame de Girardin referred to Paris as “this city of perfected elegance and marvelous luxury.”

Perfected elegance! True for Paris. True for Paris, Capital of Fashion at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves. Original Photos: Anne Lloyd. All rights reserved                      Images courtesy of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York City. 

Introductory Image:
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Gallery views of the Paris, Capital of Fashion exhibition, showing dresses by Yves Saint Laurent for Christian Dior,“Soirée de Paris” black silk velvet haute couture (1955) and Jean Paul Gaultier, Haute couture ensemble, black silk crepe dress and gold lamé overdress with paniers (1998).

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Gallery view of Paris, Capital of Fashion, showing a Red Taffeta Evening Gown by Jacques Fath (ca. 1953) and Photo by Al Ravenna, N.Y. World Telegram and Sun, of garment district workers in New York City (1955). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Gallery view of Paris, Capital of Fashion, showing a Robe à la française, 1755-1760, and John Galliano’s Marie Antoinette Dress, 2000-2001.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Gallery view of Paris, Capital of Fashion, showing the Central Gallery Display of Women’s Haute Couture during the Twentieth Century.

Gabrielle Chanel, Red Doubled Silk Crepe de Chine Evening Cape, 1927, France. The Museum at FIT, 96.69.15.

Agnes-Drecoll, Yellow Silk Satin and Rhinestone Evening Dress, circa 1934, France. Collection of Newark Museum, Gift of Mrs. Wells P. Eagleton, 1940. IL2019.2.2.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Gallery view of Paris, Capital of Fashion, showing a Worth & & Bobergh Blue Ribbed Silk Ball Gown, 1866-67, France. Lent by The Museum of the City of New York. Gift of Richard H.L. Sexton and Eric H.L. Sexton, 1962

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Gallery view of Paris, Capital of Fashion, showing French Leisure Fashion for Women,1920’s.

Christian Dior, Haute Couture Gold, Printed Silk Gauze Two-piece Dress, Spring 1951, France. The Museum at FIT, 68.143.20. Gift of Lauren Bacall

Stephen Burrows, Rayon Jersey Color Blocked Evening Dress, 1973, USA. The Museum at FIT, 2000.97.1

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Gallery view of Paris, Capital of Fashion, showing a Display of Women’s Hats and Men’s Suits.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019)  Stephen Jones (For Christian Dior), Top Hat, fall 2000. (Museum at FIT collection, 2003.70.1.)

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Exhibit Display in Paris, Capital of Fashion, dealing with Original and Copied Fashion Designs.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Gallery view of the Paris, Capital of Fashion exhibition at The Museum at FIT.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Art Eyewitness Book Review: Impressionist & Post-Impressionist Drawings by Christopher Lloyd & Impressionism by Ralph Skea

Impressionist & Post-Impressionist Drawings
by Christopher Lloyd
Thames & Hudson /$60/288 pages

by Ralph Skea
Thames & Hudson-Art Essentials /$16.95/176 pages

Reviewed by Ed Voves 

When the Museum of Modern Art in New York City announced that it would be shutting its doors from mid-June to late October 2019 for renovations and a reconfiguration of its iconic collection, I resolved to journey to NYC before the museum closed

A lot of fellow art lovers had the same idea. MOMA was crowded almost beyond capacity on the day I visited, June 13. Certain galleries, however, were even more packed with patrons than others. 

It came as no surprise that the paintings commanding such elbow-to-elbow attention were works by the 19th century Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists, the "old masters" of  modern art.

Ed Voves, Photo (2019) 
 Gallery view of the Museum of Modern Art's Monet Gallery.

Impressionism and Post-Impressionism (also called Neo-Impressionism) command scholarly respect, as well.  Book store shelves are packed with volumes offering new insights into the painters who established "the heroism of modern life" as a valid theme in the visual arts. Two new books from Thames & Hudson have just been published, Impressionist & Post-Impressionist Drawings by Christopher Lloyd and Impressionism by Ralph Skea. Each is an outstanding addition to the literature of Impressionism. 

Why the continuing appeal of Monet, Renoir and Seurat? It was not always so. When MOMA first opened its doors in 1929, interest in the founding generation of modern art was at a low ebb. 

Ed Voves, Photo (2019) Gallery view of the Museum of Modern Art, 
showing patrons with Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night.

It was not until the 1950's that the popularity of the Impressionists began to thrive. The publication in 1946 of The History of Impressionism by John Rewald, still the "gold standard" book on the subject, was key to this revival. Hollywood "bio-pics" of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (Moulin Rouge, 1952) and Vincent van Gogh (Lust for Life, 1956) also provided a huge impetus for reawakening interest in La Belle Époque.

Christopher Lloyd's Impressionist & Post-Impressionist Drawings is a particularly impressive
book. From the standpoint of the research and analysis which the author devoted to this topic and the superlative quality of the narrative, this is a book to rival - and complement - Rewald's History of Impressionism. 

In writing about the Impressionist and Post-Impressionists,  Lloyd does not limit himself to  considering preparatory sketches and exhibition-quality pastels. Astute commentary on the working technique of these artists is shared in short, masterful biographical portraits. 

Mary Cassatt, Mother Combing Her Child's Hair, 1901

These brief character studies are models of psychological insight. Throughout the book, Lloyd uses a few, well-chosen words to create an image or prove a point which other books on Impressionism could not match in an entire chapter.

Writing about Édouard Manet, whose most controversial works were often re-workings of classic artistic themes, Lloyd writes, "Manet used the past as a Trojan horse to establish the primacy of modernism."

Edgar Degas, Dancer Shown in Position Facing Three-Quarters Front, c. 1872

Lloyd was for many years the curator in charge of the Queen's Pictures for the Royal Collection. He is also a specialist on the career of Edgar Degas and his 2014 book, Degas: Drawings and Pastels is the definitive work on the most accomplished draftsman of all the Impressionists. His chapter on Degas is a high point of his new book, as well. Here is a more extended sample of Lloyd's marvelous prose:

Degas's art ... is based on a penetrating and intelligent investigation of society comparable with the novels of contemporary naturalist writers such as Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant. A keen observer of ballet dancers, cabaret performers, jockeys, milliners, laundresses, ironers and prostitutes, Degas became respectful of the skills of others and the demands made upon them, to the extent that in the wider sense the challenges they faced can be interpreted as a metaphor for the struggles he had in perfecting his own art. In his depiction of everyday modern life, therefore, Degas sought out the heroic amid the mundane and the universal amid the incidental.

Here we see art history raised to a transcendental plain of human - and humane - commentary. 

In purely artistic terms, Lloyd shows that the famous Impressionist technique of painting directly from nature was only one of the "arrows" in their quiver. Almost all of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists utilized preparatory drawings from time-to-time, as we can see in this sketch by Renoir for The Dance in the Country (1883).

Pierre Auguste Renoir, Study for The Dance in the Country, 1883

Lloyd, of course, is not alone in pointing out that the Impressionists did not always paint sur le motif. This year's premier Impressionist exhibition, The Impressionist's Eye at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, underscored the often methodical attention devoted to drawing. Lloyd, however goes one step further by including the Italian-born artist, Federico Zandomeneghi (1841-1917) as one of the Impressionist artists skillful in drawing. As the illustrations of his work displayed in the book testify, Zandomeneghi was a maestro with pastel chalk.

Federico Zandomeneghi, Waking Up, 1895

Zandomeneghi was a latecomer to Impressionism, exhibiting at the 1880 Salon. Before this, he was a member of the Macchiaioli art circle, based in Florence. "Macchia" means splash, used in reference to their brush technique, which was similar to that of their French contemporaries.   

The Macchiaioli, in fact, were a parallel avant-garde movement astonishingly akin to the Impressionists. Lloyd is right on target when he notes that Zandomeneghi had only to leave the Macchiaioli's meeting place in Florence for its Impressionist counterpart, "on coming to Paris Zandomeneghi was exchanging the Caffe Michelangioli for the Cafe de la Nouvelle-Athenes on the Place Pigalle..."

Such reflections raise the rather subversive question of why there are so many exhibitions devoted to the Impressionists and so few to the Macchiaioli. According to my research, the last major exhibit of Macchiaioli paintings in the English-speaking world was held in 1986 at the art museums of UCLA and Harvard. Until this omission is corrected, we at least have Lloyd's spirited chapter on Zandomeneghi to remind us of the Macchiaioli.

Impressionism was never limited to one nation, though of course, France and French painters had the starring role in the crucial early years. Ralph Skea, in the second of the books under review, emphasizes the international character of Impressionism in his splendid volume of Thames & Hudson's Art Essentials series. 

Skea,an artist himself, pays special attention to the American and Australian Impressionist painters, some of whom required quite a bit of convincing before joining the movement.
Examining the career of J. Alden Weir (1852-1919), Skea notes that Weir encountered Impressionist paintings while studying in France, finding them "to be unprofessional, lacking in correct drawing and composition."

After returning to the United States, Weir experienced a change of heart. He joined John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902) and Theodore Robinson (1852-1896) at the Cos Cob art colony in New England. Weir's The Red Bridge (1895) is one of the greatest of American Impressionist paintings. 

John Singer Sargent, An Out-of-Doors Study, 1889

American Impressionism had special challenges which kept it from achieving the special status it deserved. Two of its most gifted practitioners, Twachtman and Robinson, died tragically young. The most gifted American artist of the era, John Singer Sargent, painted an wide-ranging body of Impressionist works, in oil and watercolor, but became side-tracked by his grandiose mural series for the Boston Public Library. By the time the American - and Australian - Impressionists were hitting their stride, new developments in art had pushed Impressionism away from the vanguard of Modernism.

Skea skillfully incorporates this American episode within the overall saga of Impressionism, all within 176 pages. He recounts the rise and enduring appeal of the Impressionism in an engaging, thoughtful way which will appeal to readers new to the Impressionist's story and rewarding to art lovers who have read Rewald's classic account.

Skea's Impressionism is remarkable both for its concision and the way that unfamiliar artists or little known facts are introduced without affecting the thrust of the narrative. For instance, Skea notes that one of the lesser-known members of the movement, Armand Guillaumin, was one of the first to "to include factory chimneys as a major feature, showing the visual impact of recent industrialization."

Armand Guillaumin, Sunset at Ivry, 1873

Skea makes a bold comparison between Guillaumin's Sunset at Ivry with another Impressionist painting which had been displayed at the first Impressionist Salon in 1874. This was none other than Monet's signature work which was to give the movement its name: Impression: Sunrise.  

Skea writes:
Guillaumin's dramatic representation of a sunset is in many ways a companion picture to Monet's more famous and more abbreviated "impression" of a sunrise. Both images brought to the exhibition the Impressionist commitment to painting light by means of heightened colour effects.

Claude Monet, Impression: Sunrise, 1872

Taken together, Impressionist & Post-Impressionist Drawings by Christopher Lloyd and Impressionism by Ralph Skea prove their points. The Impressionists did indeed make carefully composed drawings as part of their oeuvre. Despite the harsh, derisive criticism hurled at them during the early years of the movement, the Impressionists' novel handling of light and their depiction of social themes changed the trajectory of art forever.

How like the sunrises and sunsets they painted are the pictures of Monet and his colleagues! One never fails to see the Sun break through the mists of dawn or sink below the horizon in a veil of fading glory without feeling a sense of awe, a renewed belief that the living spirit of the cosmos will triumph and endure. So too, for the art of the Impressionists.

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved                                                                                           
Book cover images courtesy of Thames & Hudson 

Introductory Image:
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, (French, 1834-1917) A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers, 1865. Oil on canvas: 29 x 36 1/2 in. (73.7 x 92.7 cm) Metropolitan Museum of Art. H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 # 29.100.128

Ed Voves, Photo (2019) Gallery view of the Museum of Modern Art's Monet Gallery. 

Ed Voves, Photo (2019) Gallery view of the Museum of Modern Art, showing patrons with Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926) Mother Combing Her Child's Hair, c. 1901. Pastel on gray paper: 25 1/4 x 31 5/8 in. (64.1 x 80.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Mary T. Cockcroft, 46.102

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, (French, 1834-1917) A Ballet Dancer in Position Facing Three-Quarters Front, c. 1872. Pencil and black chalk, heightened with white chalk on pink wove paper: 41 x 27.6 cm (16 1/8 x 10 7/8 in.)  Harvard Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum. # 1965.263

Pierre Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919) Study for The Dance in the Country, 1883.  Brush and brown, blue, and black wash over black chalk or graphite: 49.5 x 30.5 cm (19 1/2 x 12 in.) Yale University Art Museum. Bequest of Edith Malvina K. Wetmore.  #1966.80.25

Federico Zandomeneghi (Italian, 1841-1917) Waking Up,1895. Pastel mounted on board: 60 x 72 cm. (23 5/8  x 28 3/8 in.) Palazzo dei Te, Mantua.

John Singer Sargent  (American, 1856-1925) An Out-of-Doors Study, 1889. Oil on canvas, frame: 41 1/2 x 48 5/8 x 6 in. (105.4 x 123.5 x 15.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum Collection Fund, 20.640

Armand Guillaumin (French, 1841-1927) Sunset at Ivry, 1873. Oil on canvas: 81 cm. x 65 cm. (25 1/2 x 32 in.) Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926) Impression: Sunrise, 1872. Oil on canvas: 48 x 63 cm. (19 x 25 in.) The Musée Marmottan, Paris.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Cost of Revolution at the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia


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

Museum of the American Revolution  
Sept. 28, 2019 through March 17, 2020

Reviewed by Ed Voves
Original photography by Anne Lloyd

The American Revolution began in 1773 with a defiant prank that resulted in 340 chests of tea tossed into Boston Harbor. A decade later, on November 25, 1783, America’s struggle for independence ended with a practical joke.

The last British troops to evacuate New York City nailed the Union Jack onto the flagpole at their fort near the Battery. The Redcoats slathered grease on the flagpole so that the victorious Patriots would have a tough time replacing the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes. It took a few attempts, but Old Glory eventually was raised over New York City.

During the ten year interval between the Boston Tea Party and the British departure from New York, a living-nightmare of suffering, slaughter and sobering loss of life took place.

Xavier Della Gatta, The Battle of Paoli, 1782

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia has just opened a superb exhibition, entitled Cost of Revolution. This remarkable display of art and historic artifacts focuses on the life, sufferings and death of one soldier of the American Revolutionary War, a British officer named Richard St. George.

Before examining the life of Richard St. George, let us briefly look at the estimates of those who were killed in battle or died of disease,1775-1783: 24,000 Patriots, 24,000 British, 7,500 Hessian mercenaries and 600 French soldiers and sailors.

No figures are available for civilian deaths, but these were certainly in the thousands. Many of these non-military fatalities, as was the case in the opposing armies, were inflicted by a far deadlier foe than musket-armed foot soldiers: smallpox. A dreadful smallpox epidemic ravaged North America during the American Revolution. Particularly hard hit were African American slaves who fled to refugee camps set-up by the British early in the war, only to be stricken

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) 
Joseph Wright of Derby's The Dead Soldier (detail), c.1789

The cost of America's Revolution? A butcher's bill likely to have numbered 75,000 dead.

With all of this slaughter and suffering, why did the Museum of the American Revolution focus on just one soldier's plight? Was the experience of Richard St. George, a lieutenant in a British light infantry unit, so revealing of the hardships of the many? Moreover, is it fitting to use the tale of a soldier who survived the war, though horribly wounded, to illustrate the "cost" of Revolution?

A resounding yes to all of the above! The decision to chronicle the life of Richard St. George is a truly outstanding effort of bringing the past to life. In this superb exhibition, the curators of Cost of Revolution probe many vital issues of the era of the American Revolution - and topics of relevance to our contemporary world, as well.

Thomas Gainsborough, Richard St. George Mansergh-St. George, 1776

In addition to his courageous service during the American Revolution, Richard St. George was a talented amateur artist and man of wide-ranging cultural interests. Shortly before sailing to join his British Army unit in the American colonies, St. George posed for his portrait in 1776. Selecting Thomas Gainsborough to paint his likeness was an inspired choice. Gainsborough  portrayed St. George as "every inch the officer and gentleman" but also an untested, "unbloodied" soldier.

In contrast to this "before the battle" portrait, the noted Irish artist, Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1739-1808), later painted a number of portraits of St. George still bearing the marks of his wartime head wound suffered at the Battle of Germantown in 1777. 

Anne Lloyd (Photo, 2019)
Hugh Douglas Hamilton, Richard St. George, c. 1800

This portrait of St. George, actually done after his death, shows him wearing a skull cap to cover his battle scars. 

St. George was shot in the head by one of the deadly marksmen of Washington's army. Because Germantown was  close to Philadelphia (today it is a Philly neighborhood), the wounded officer was rushed to a hospital where skilled medical care was available.

"Rushed" to a hospital is a bit of an exaggeration. St. George later drew a sketch of himself, wrapped in a blue cloak, being taken in a farm cart along with other wounded troops to an aid station. St. George entitled the sketch "My triumphant return into Philadelphia." Later, this somber scene reappeared in a painting of the Battle of Germantown which St. George commissioned an Italian artist, Xavier Della Gatta, to paint.

Richard St. GeorgeMy Triumphant Return into Philadelphia, c.1777-78

Triumphantly or not, the wounded St. George made it back to Philadelphia. Desperate injuries call for desperate remedies and that is what saved St. George. A surgeon removed part of his skull with a medical instrument called a trephine saw. 

Trephine (Skull Saw), Mütter Museum, Philadelphia

By performing this gruesome operation, fatal swelling of brain tissue was prevented. This enabled the wound to heal by keeping it bandaged and clean. Eventually a silver plate was inserted over the opening in St. George's skull.

It goes without saying that this "brain surgery" was performed without anesthetics. Wounded soldiers were given a "dram" of whiskey or brandy and had a musket ball placed in their mouths for them to "grit" their teeth upon, to keep from choking. Then the surgeons set to work amputating limbs or, in St. George's case, sawing a hole in his head. Wounds in the torso were inoperable and soldiers shot in the chest or abdomen rarely survived.

The emotional scars St. George suffered went much deeper than this nearly fatal gunshot could inflict. His brush with death created a lingering psychic condition which today we call posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Richard St. George, Self-portrait of the artist, c. late 1780's

His continued suffering led St. George to investigate spiritualism and other-worldly phenomenon in the years following the Revolutionary War. St. George cultivated friendships with prominent figures in the British cultural scene, who were involved in the great shift of thought and feeling we now call Romanticism. 

With his abundant talents, incredible life experiences and sensitive disposition, St. George might well have become a major author or artist himself. St. George, alas, had one more character trait which ultimately determined that he would not "cheat" fate.

Richard St. George Mansergh-St. George was an Irishman.

Born about 1752 into a family of wealthy Protestant aristocrats, St. George was by birthright a member of Ireland's "ascendancy." St. George's family, prominent in Britain's military, owned a vast expanse of Irish lands which he eventually inherited. Courageous, self-confident to the point of arrogance, the Anglo-Irish warrior-gentry embodied Oliver Goldsmith's immortal words in The Traveller (1764)

 Pride in their port, defiance in their eye,                                                                           I see the lords of human kind pass by.                                                                               Intent on high designs, a thoughtful band,                                                                         By forms unfashion'd, fresh from Nature's hand;                                                               Fierce in their native hardiness of soul,                                                                             True to imagine'd right, above control ...

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Flag from the 1798 Irish Revolt

In 1798, the seemingly absolute sway of the "Ascendancy" suddenly was challenged. Radical insurrection, triggered by the French Revolution, reached the shores of Ireland.  For the second time in his life, St. George confronted the "cost" of revolution, and this time paid the full price.

The Museum of the American Revolution received cooperation of the highest order from a number of Irish museums, making a carefully-balanced treatment of the life and times of Richard St. George possible. One of the treasures of Ireland's National Museum is on view in Cost of Revolution. This is the bloodstained pocketbook or wallet of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-1798), a leader of the United Irishmen, who tried to break Britain's control of Ireland.

Theobald Wolfe Tone's Pocketbook, National Museum of Ireland

I cannot recall any previous exhibition in the United States dealing with the 1798 "Year of Liberty" in Ireland. Cost of Revolution is a true revelation in this respect.

The same can also be said for the more familiar events of the American Revolution. There is always something to be learned from history, especially when, as in the case of the Museum of the American Revolution, "living" history is the goal.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019)
 Living history educator, Matthew van Nostrand

At the press preview, several "living history" educators from the museum's staff were present. Two of them were dressed in the combat attire of St. George's regiment, the 52nd Foot, as the British called infantry units. 

St. George and his comrades were light infantrymen and here another surprise from the past is in store. During the Revolutionary War, the British became as skilled as the Americans in "Indian-style" tactics, taking cover and firing from behind trees. A Scottish officer, Major Patrick Ferguson (1744-1780), introduced a breach-loading rifle during the war. A working replica of the Ferguson rifle was on hand at the press preview which museum president, Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, expertly explained. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019)
 Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, director of the Museum of the American Revolution,
 explaining the breach-loading rifle invented by Major Patrick Ferguson

The Ferguson rifle was the most advanced firearm of the eighteenth century but, fortunately for Washington's Continentals, it was a little too advanced. According to Dr. Stephenson, this rapid-firing weapon quickly clogged after a number of shots, due to the build-up of residue from the crude gunpowder used during the 1770's.

Warfare during the "Age of Reason" had more in common with the horrors of the Thirty Years War than with enlightened rationalism of Voltaire and Diderot. 

As the centerpiece of the gallery dealing with the Battle of Germantown, a life-sized - and incredibly life-like - display of two light infantrymen of the 52nd is on view. We are confronted with the "face" of battle. The features of the sword-bearing officer are modeled on those of Richard St. George.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019)
Gallery view of Under Attack at Germantown
at the Cost of Revolution exhibition

The astonishing realism of this sculpture has to be seen to be believed. Once you look into the eyes of these grim-faced warriors, you start to realize what it means to fight for your life, to kill or to be killed.

My wife and I were very moved to come face-to-face with Richard St. George when we studied this stunning work of historical recreation. Anne and I had seen a similar display dealing with the Napoleonic Wars at the National Army Museum in London many years ago. I mentioned this to Dr. Stephenson who said that both statue groups were based on the research of a great historian-illustrator named Gerald Embleton,  

At the risk of contradicting myself, I did discover a link between the Age of Reason and the bloodshed of the American War of Independence. Adam Smith, the great Scottish economist, published a treatise of philosophy entitled Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). In this work, Smith makes an observation showing the way that human beings can connect with the experiences of others, on different sides of the battle line and across centuries.

Adam Smith wrote:

As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves feel in like situation. Though our brother is upon the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers … it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019)
Gallery view of the Cost of Revolution exhibit,
showing Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of Richard St. George

That is precisely the effect that Cost of Revolution has, informing, stimulating and challenging our "imagination only that we can form any conception of what" are the feelings of other human beings.

The resonances of Richard St. George's life are truly palpable in the exhibition galleries at the Museum of the American Revolution. 

The experience of combat, of living with a debilitating wound, of being caught a second time in the chaos of political upheaval are not abstractions in Cost of Revolution. For a moment, however brief, our imaginations are moved to feel and to understand what Richard St. George endured when a well-aimed bullet at the Battle of Germantown stretched his body and his mind "upon the rack" of suffering - from which he was never to be free. 

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved. Original Photos: Copyright of Anne Lloyd, all rights reserved.                                                                                        
Images courtesy of the  Museum of the American Revolution 

Introductory Image:

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Under Attack at Germantown (detail), gallery display at the Cost of Revolution exhibition, the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia.

Xavier Della Gatta (Italian, active 1777-1828) The Battle of Paoli, 1782. Oil painting commissioned by Richard St. George. Collection of the Museum of the American Revolution , Philadelphia.   

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019)  Joseph Wright of Derby's The Dead Soldier (detail), c. 1789. Oil on canvas: 40 x 50 inches (101.6 x 127 cm). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. Accession Number B1974.3.25

Thomas Gainsborough (British, 1727-1788) Richard St. George Mansergh-St. George, 1776. Oil on canvas: 230.2 × 156.1 cm.  National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Felton Bequest, 1922. #1223-3

Hugh Douglas Hamilton (Irish, 1739-1808 ) Richard St. George, c.1800. Oil on Panel, Private Collection.

Richard St. George (Irish, c.1752-1798) My triumphant return to Philadelphia, c. 1778. Ink, watercolor on paper. Harlan Crow Library, Dallas, Texas.

Trephine (Skull Saw). Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Richard St. George (Irish, c.1752-1798) Self-portrait of the artistWatercolor wash: 24 x 37 cm. (9.4 x 14.6 in.) Museum of the American Revolution, Gift of Mr. Roger Shuttlewood

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Flag from the 1798 Irish Revolt, on display in the Cost of Revolution exhibition at the Museum of the American Revolution.

Theobald Wolfe Tone's Pocketbook, National Museum of Ireland

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019), Living history educator, Matthew van Nostrand, of the Museum of American Revolution.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, director of the Museum of the American Revolution, explaining the workings of the breach-loading rifle invented by Major Patrick Ferguson.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Gallery view of Under Attack at Germantown, exhibit display at the Cost of Revolution exhibition, the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019) Gallery view of the Cost of Revolution exhibit, showing Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of Richard St. George.