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History in Art

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The Night Before the Battle

1865
30 1/2 x 44 1/2 in. (77.5 x 113 cm)

James Henry Beard
American (Buffalo, NY, 1811 - 1893, Flushing, NY)

Object Type: Painting
Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Gift of Dr. Ronald M. Lawrence
Accession Number: 1978.15
Location: Currently on view
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James Beard had first-hand experience as a captain in the Union army during the Civil War. This painting, completed in the year the war ended, is a dramatic statement about the ever-present possibility of death on the battlefield.

[Gallery label text, 2007]

Were it not for details like the skeleton keeping vigil behind the cannon, the cruciform composition of the flag draped over the sleeping soldier, and the scattered playing cards suggestive of luck and chance, this painting would be a simple narrative about the Civil War. However, such potent symbolism imbues the work with layers of spiritual significance.

Perhaps the reminders of death and sacrifice that the artist included in his masterful painting emerged from his firsthand experience in the Union Army during the Civil War. The meticulously selected and carefully arranged details attest to the poignancy of the soldiers' situation and contrast with the implied violence that will occur on the morrow.

[Gallery label text]

Marks
Artist's signature, lower left: J. Beard/1865


Provenance
Artist; descended through artist's family; purchased by Terry De Lapp Gallery , Los Angeles, CA, ca. 1978; purchased by Dr. Ronald M. Lawrence, Los Angeles, CA in 1978; given to the Gallery in 1978

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Web Links See links to web pages and lesson plans
Night Before the Battle Interactive games developed by students from Rochester Institute of Technology based on MAG's painting. Includes links to Civil War primary source material.
Seeing America Inservice Materials from a teacher in-service presentation Spring 2008
Seeing America Chapter on James Henry Beard's The Night Before the Battle, written by Susan Dodge-Peters Daiss.
MAGexplore MAGexplore provides in-depth information and close looking at over 200 objects in MAG's collection.


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