Timothy H. O'Sullivan (ca. 1840-1882), photographer
printed by Alexander Gardner, A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July 4, 1863
Albumen print; 7 x 9 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War”
SAN MARINO, CALIFORNIA • The Huntington Library • Ongoing
The Huntington’s Civil War archives—begun when Henry E. Huntington purchased two of the “Big Five” collections of Abraham Lincoln materials early in the 20th century — supply more than 200 works by famed war photographers Mathew Brady, Timothy O’Sullivan, George Barnard, Alexander Gardner, and Andrew J. Russell, among others, for “A Strange and Fearful Interest.” Curated by Jennifer Watts, the exhibition explores how photographic images explained, reflected, and shaped the nation’s coming to terms with the unprecedented death toll of the Civil War, focusing on key episodes to highlight larger cultural issues. Focal points include the battlefront, particularly the Battle of Antietam—the bloodiest and costliest single day of combat in American history; the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the nationwide mourning that ensued, and the subsequent execution of the conspirators; and the establishment of Gettysburg National Monument as a site of reconciliation and remembrance.
The exhibition takes its title from a statement made by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1863 responding to the imagery of Antietam—“The field of photography is extending itself to embrace subjects of strange and sometimes of fearful interest.” The war coincided with the rise of photographic and printing technologies that enabled the wide dissemination of imagery to a rapt audience.
Recent estimates put the number of Civil War dead at as many as 750,000 Americans, more than all other major conflicts from the Revolutionary War through the present.
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