Portion of Famed Painting of Antietam Battle Surfaces
After the Civil War, a former lieutenant of the Union Army, artist James
Hope, took up painting scenes from his notebook of sketches of the war that
pitted brother against brother.
One of the most famous results was "The Aftermath," which depicted the gory
trench known as Bloody Lane that was said to have been piled six deep with
bodies after the battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. The battle was
the bloodiest in America's history, with about 24,000 men dying there in
Maryland or soon after from the injuries they sustained on the field. It
also was a major victory for the Union Army, emboldening President Lincoln
to abolish slavery in the South.
Arguably the most important painting by Hope, "The Aftermath" was thought to
have been washed away in the great Elmira flood of 1937. The house in
Watkins Glen, N.Y., where Hope retired was buried by tons of mud and silt.
Years later, a portion of "The Aftermath" and other of his paintings were
dug up from the estate and hung in the eaves of a local church. They were
later bought by the National Park Services and restored, and are now
exhibited at the Antietam National Battlefield museum. The other portion of
"The Aftermath" was considered lost forever.
Recently, however, the bottom-left section of the painting, a 52- by 70-inch
piece that bears the most detailed image of the bloody trench and Hope's
signature, has surfaced from the collection of a private art collector in
the city. The missing section, which is water-damaged but still discernible,
was found in 1998 or so behind a cupboard in a home near where Hope died, a
lawyer who represents the collector, Michael Collesano, said. The owner of
the cupboard had no idea what it was, he said.
Eventually, after passing through several art dealers, the fragment end ed
up in the hands of the collector, who has held onto it over the years
because the National Parks Service didn't have the money to buy and restore
it. However, the archivists and historians at the National Park Service did
verify the fragment as belonging to the original.
"The two pieces fit together perfectly," an art dealer who also represents
the collector, Dennis Insalaco, said. He and his client, who Mr. Insalaco
said preferred not to be named, are attempting to get private investors to
put up the money to reunite this section of "The Aftermath" with the
remainder at Antietam. They are seeking $400,000 to buy the painting and
another $100,000 to restore it, Mr. Collesano said.
It will probably take a Civil War buff to understand the importance of the
donation," Mr. Insalaco said. "This is a remnant that will give us a really
clear idea of what's considered Hope's best and most important painting."
The museum currently displays an artificial image of the painting that is
based on a photograph taken before the flood. Using high-tech graphical
tools, they have recreated what the painting may have looked like before it
was damaged. Nothing can compare to actually uniting the two pieces of the
original, Mr. Insalaco said.
The National Parks Service's superintendent of the Antietam Battlefield and
Museum, John Howard, said the painting "showed the enormity of the fighting
here." He said a former deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, who is
now president of the World Bank, found the painting so meaningful that he
kept a copy of it in his office.
"It is a beautiful work of art that reminds people of the horror of war,"
Mr. Howard said. As a scout and mapmaker, Hope often was on the hills
surrounding battlefields and was said to make quick sketches in pencil
whenever the opportunity arose. He created his large murals of the battles
by combining many images from his notebooks. The effect was to create a
painting that told a story over a period of hours, rather than capturing a
single moment, Mr. Howard said.
"These paintings were done by somebody who was there," he said. "We find at
the museum that this is the most important part" for people learning about
the Civil War.