Special Report

Civil War Artifacts in the Smithsonian

The museum collections house many items from the Civil War, including photographs, uniforms and personal diaries

Lincoln's Top Hat (National Museum of American History)

Winslow Homer’s A Visit from the Old Mistress, National Museum of American History

Winslow Homer A Visit from the Old Mistress
(Smithsonian American Art Museum)

In 1876, Winslow Homer painted A Visit from the Old Mistress, which captures a tense encounter between freed slaves and the wife of their former owner. “The animosity and the seething anger in the picture make people step closer and then recoil,” says chief curator Eleanor Harvey. “It’s confrontational, and it does not let the viewer off the hook.” In this way, she adds, Homer is the “conscience of the nation” during and after the Civil War. A Visit from the Old Mistress acknowledges the emancipation of the slaves, but also suggests that there is still work to do and relationships to mend. The painting will be exhibited in “The Civil War and American Art,” opening November 16, 2012.

by Megan Gambino


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