Sergeant, First Light Infantry of Providence

October 5th, 2015

RI Militia photo caseA recent addition to the Military Collection is a hand-colored tinted ambrotype of a sergeant of an antebellum militia company. It is in a glass and gold metal frame 14 x 11 cm. behind a brass mat all contained within in a large carved wooden frame 32 x 28.5 cm.RI Militia photo detail

This striking studio portrait taken sometime in the decade prior to the Civil War depicts a seated figure wearing a bright scarlet coatee festooned with gold buttons and adorned with epaulets. His trousers are navy blue or black with a wide stripe of white. Across his chest are two shoulder belts with a distinctive rectangular belt plate bearing a shield. His left hand cradles a sword, and on the table to his right rests a tall bearskin with white plume.

While the uniform is similar to that worn by the Albany Burgess Corps of New York, it is more likely to be a member of the First Light Infantry of Providence, Rhode Island, a prominent militia unit which was chartered in 1818; it furnished two companies to the Rhode Island Detached Militia in 1861 when war broke out,  and became a regiment in 1863.





The Wounded of World War One

June 12th, 2015

During the Great War, the allies suffered over 12 million wounded, the Central Powers over 8 million. As a subject of artistic inquiry, few artists ventured to tackle such a sensitive theme yet the prevalence of wounded soldiers in the towns and cities of Britain could not be overlooked. As The Windsor Magazine put it in 1916, ‘the parks and squares are full of these good, uncomplaining fellows, to whom we owe more than we can repay’.  The writer went on to suggest that the wounded were an ‘attractive subject for the artist’ in reference to a painting titled The Creditors by the British academic artist, John Charles Dollman (1851-1934) which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1916. Dollman The Creditors Another reviewer writing in The Connoisseur remarked, ‘Less immediately warlike is Mr. J. C. Dollman’s Creditors, a row of wounded soldiers sharing a park bench with a trim looking nurse. The scene is given in pleasant colour and with a keen appreciation of the inevitable cheerfulness which Tommy Atkins displays under the most adverse conditions’. A photogravure print was subsequently published by Frost and Read, a provincial company in Bristol, England.

The image shows four wounded soldier sitting on a bench with a nurse in Hyde Park, London. It has been suggested that the four represent soldiers from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England although this cannot be confirmed. The nurse is lighting a cigarette for one of the soldiers. This picture and the meaning of the nurse is discussed at length in ‘Art of a Second Order’: The First World War from the British home front perspective by Richenda Roberts (Ph.D. 2013), pp. 13, 38 and 126.

Dollman FraterniteIn 1917, Dollman exhibited another war-related painting at the Royal Academy, this one depicting wounded soldiers at the front. In Fraternité, we see a group of invalids marching down a muddy road somewhere on the Western Front. Leading the group is a quartet of soldiers, three of whom are wounded. A French medical orderly with cigarette in hand acts as a support for one of the wounded who may also be French. Flanking this pair are two wounded British soldiers, while other French and British wounded follow behind.



The Death of Wolfe

June 1st, 2015

The Military Collection recently acquired a wash-drawing by the well-known English artist and illustrator, Richard Caton Woodville (1856-1927). For many years, Woodville served as a senior studio artist for the Illustrated London News, ‘working-up’ sketches that have been sent to the London offices of the paper on the Strand by the various special artists working around the globe. He was know for his dramatic style especially in his many scenes of battles and historical personalities. He was also a professional studio artist and exhibited many military paintings at the leading galleries including the Royal Academy. A search through issues of the Illustrated London News from the 1870’s through World War One reveals countess pictures by the artist. However, his work for the paper ceased in 1921 although he did contribute a scene of the English Civil War in 1925.

The present work was not apparently drawn for the News but Woodville contributed many illustrations to other books and magazines including The Boy’s Own so this image might well have been drawn for it as he was working for this paper in the 1920’s.

Woodville death of Wolfe

In this picture which is a departure from the usual scenes of his death, General James Wolfe has been shot by a French soldier on the Plains of Abraham during the Battle of Quebec in 1759. In the background, the artist has depicted the Citadel of Quebec with a rather unusual high tower, more akin to the Great Tower of Windsor Castle than Quebec! The subject was not new for Woodville as he had dealt with it previously in various publications including British Battles on Land and Sea (1915).



Archers piquiers

April 29th, 2015

Among the manuscripts in the Military Collection is a bound volume entitled Le journal du sergent major de la place conquise sur les ennemis. This was acquired from William H. Schab, a dealer in rare books and prints in New York City in March 1951. The work is signed ‘Sieur de Lamyre’ – probably Gabriel de la Mire, 1632-1685. Part of the text is devoted to the subject of ‘archers-piquiers’ (archers with pikes) combined with musketeers. A large folding plate signed by Noel Cochin (1622-1695), the famous French engraver and landscaper artist shows a formation of archers with musketeers repelling an attack by cavalry and infantry.

Archers Piquiers 17th centuryTwo folding water-colors are also bound in including one showing an archer and a musketeer engaged with a cavalryman which exemplifies the author’s thesis in detail. In this scene the archer supports the musketeer’s attack by discharging arrows; the second picture shows him using a pike against the horseman’s charge, and protects the musketeer who continues to fire.

The author advocates the use of archers with pikes to support the musketry. He points out that 30 arrows can be discharged for 6 musket shots, that more arrows can be carried than charges of powder, that muskets are costly and cannot be used in rain or snow, and that pikes carried by archers can serve as defense against a cavalry charge and provide cover for the musketry to reload. Although the author does not wish to supplant muskets, but only to supplement them by forming mixed battalions, his defense of archery is curious at this late date in the seventeenth century.

[Extract from dealer’s typed note inserted in front cover]

Alderman Kirkman’s Funeral Procession, 1780

February 17th, 2015

A recent purchase is a broadside depicting the funeral procession of Alderman John Kirkman in London on Sunday, September 24, 1780. John Kirkman (1743-1780), Alderman for Cheap Ward, was a London fishmonger and Sheriff elect. During recent popish riots in London, Kirkman had commanded the City Volunteers on several rainy nights during which he caught a cold that quickly turned to a fever. He withdrew to his family home in Margate, Kent, where he died on September 19.

Alderman Kirkman funeral

That he was a popular local politician is evidenced by the massive turnout for his funeral which drew crowds along the route. Many of the local papers described the procession such as this one from the Gentleman’s Magazine for September:

‘The corpse of Mr. Ald. Kirkman was brought in a private manner about 3 o’clock as far as the obelisk in St. George’s Fields; it was there met by the gentlemen of the military associations, and   conducted to Blackfriars bridge, where the lord mayor, aldermen, city marshals, &c. joined the procession. They proceeded from thence up Ludgate-hill, through Cheapside, to the church of   Bassishaw, for internment, in the following order:
The two city marshals.
Four staff-men on horseback
Drums and fifes, muffled
London foot association
Trumpets sounding the horse dead march
A quarter-master
Twelve light horse volunteers
An officer
Board of Feathers
Hearfe [with names of six Pall Bearers]
Band of musick on horseback playing the dead march in Saul.
An officer
Light horse volunteers, two and two.
An officer
The chief mourner’s coach
Three other mourning coaches.
Lord mayor and aldermen.
The two sheriffs
The election committee
Sundry carriages with friends
The concourse of people on this occasion was the greatest ever known’.

So immense was the crowd that one little 4 year old girl was thrown down at Blackfriars and trampled to death, while a young 10 year old boy fell from the balustrade of the bridge into the River Thames and downed. People crowded all available windows, roof tops, and any elevation in order to watch the proceedings. Meanwhile a toll collector on the bridge was assaulted by the servant of a farmer during the procession, while thieves broke into the house of one family in Clerkenwell who had gone to watch the event. Some people criticized the funeral for being held on a Sunday fearing that it might ‘occasion disturbances by drawing a disorderly mob together, and thus converting the Sabbath…into a day of tumult, riot and confusion’; while others were disgusted at the ‘pomp and glare’ of it believing that the Alderman himself would have preferred to spend the money on ‘alms to the distressed and poor’. One writer believed that it sent a positive message to ‘the idle and lower class of spectators’ that the city could now turn out a respective force of its own ‘sufficiently powerful to prevent a repetition of such tumults as disgraced London on the 6th and 7th last’.

Camp followers in the Peninsular War

January 12th, 2015

Soldiers on a marchIn earlier wars and campaigns, it was not uncommon for wives and children of soldiers to march with the armies. This was the case during the Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal fought from 1807 and 1814 between Britain and France. In a recently published account written by one such wife of a soldier,  Catherine Exley, the difficulties and travails experienced under such appalling conditions are brought sharply into focus. She describes one particular march in the Spain:

The rain poured down the whole way, the road was so bad we walked in mire and wet. The sand amongst my clothes, which, rubbing against my body, caused acute pain in  walking…having    neither tents nor beds, everyone was provided with a blanket only; the one which covered me was soaked with water.

The cover of the new publication uses a detail from a rather interesting engraving after the well-known British artist, Thomas Rowlandson. Entitled Soldiers on a march, it was published in London in April 1811 during the height of the war in Iberia, and captures the suffering borne by women camp-followers and wives. Indeed, the subtitle reads: ‘To pack up her tatters and follow the drum’. While it does poke fun at the subject, for instance, a woman carrying her husband, we see women with their children, and the stress is readily visible on the face of the woman on the right- hand side, who carries one child in a sling on her front while another is on her back. That the subject of women following the army was well-known in Britain at the time is suggested by other images which depict them. Examples are shown below:


Soldiers marching                 British troops on the march

March of baggage

An Officers Room

December 9th, 2014

The military collection has recently acquired a rather interesting hand-colored engraving depicting British officers at rest. It was published in Dublin by William McCleary whose premises were located at 39 Nassau Street. While the artist is unknown, the practice of poking fun at the army was very common in the post-Waterloo era. This image dates from around 1825 at a time when the uniforms worn by officers were becoming more flamboyant. Dandyism was rife and many satirists caricatured such trends which were reflected in the vanity of the military elite.

An Officers Room

This particular scene is crammed with fascinating vignettes. Various uniform accouterments litter the carpeted floor and these along with the dress of one of the men suggest that they are members of a cavalry regiment. The one wearing his dress uniform on the left admires himself in the mirror as he sits by the fireplace. The items of dress on the floor appear stiff suggestive of starching. A military cap lies beneath a table while a helmet with a bearskin crown stands on the chest of drawers. A corset in the foreground might seem out of place in a male setting but is yet another symbol of the extremes to which the officer class had gone to create their immaculate image. Another officer, his back to the viewer, practices his flute while a third lounges on a chaise l’ange smoking a long Meerschaum pipe while reading a a list of promotions. He leans on a table looking rather intoxicated from the claret that he has consumed from the overturned glass but there is still more to be drunk from the two bottles.

Cavalry officers were drawn from the upper classes and their recreational pursuits are denoted by the framed pictures hanging of the wall, the boxing gloves, a cricket bat and ball, fishing and shooting gear. The publisher has added a personal touch by including a printed list of his prints, &c on the wall. A pet dog and two puppies who tug at the tunic complete this amusing scene which satirizes the easy life experienced by many officers in stark contrast to the lives of their men.

18th century Vues d’Optique

May 22nd, 2014

Sixty years ago, Anne Brown acquired five hand-colored engraved transparencies from a dealer in Maine. These date from the late 18th century and were probably published in Vienna. Some of them may have been engraved by Georg Balhazar Probst. Known as Vues d’Optique, they were displayed in a back-lit box containing a candle and a convex lens designed to enhance the depth perception as well as illuminating parts of the scene. This was achieved by cutting-out sections while painting over other parts on the back. They depict the following:

1. An indoor scene with a large number of attendants and spectators in mourning dress and military uniforms, at an investiture of the Holy Roman Emperor.

Transp4 Transp4a

2. An outdoor night scene by and after Johann Hieronymus Löschenkohl (1753-1807) showing a Turkish commander surrounded by a military escort, titled ‘Der Bascha u. Novi wird am 3ten Oct. 1788 um zu Capituliren zum G.F.M. Baron v. Loudon geführt‘.




3. An outdoor military scene in Prussia, showing soldiers in foreground kneeling, while mass is celebrated under a canopy near a flowing scene.

4. The death of F.M. Lt. Gen. Prince Fürstenburg at the battle of Stockach, 26th March 1799.

5. A bird’s eye view of the Siege of Gibraltar, by Probst.


Recently two additional prints by Probst have been acquired depicting naval battles.

Naval BattleNaval Battle verso


For further details of Vues d’Optiques, see Devices of Wonder (Getty)

Prussian Uniform Chart

May 16th, 2014


1799 Prussian uniform chart      Prussian chart detail 3



A recent acquisition is a large painted chart depicting the entire range of uniforms in the Prussian Army of the late 18th century. It is somewhat similar to a chart in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle which dates to 1799 and is probably from the hand of the same artist. Such charts were published officially, frequently to show the changes and additions of the uniforms. The collection owns another water-color painted chart, circa 1788 entitled Plan der Königl: Preussischen Armee so wohl Ober Officier als Gemeine in ihren accuraten Uniform, und Staercke. Annual manuscript books containing entire pages for each regiment but often with more detailed written information, were also produced and a number of these are in the Military Collection.

The gouache on board image measuring approximately 63 x 86 cm. contains upwards of 270 figures in all,  showing three-quarter length images of soldiers in various uniforms, each identified by a faint caption. At the top are six full-length figures flanking an oval portrait showing the head and shoulders of the Prussian king, possibly Frederick William II (reigned 1786-1797) or III (reigned 1797-1840), although the full name cannot be made out.

Fort Custer Army Illustrators

May 6th, 2014

A recent addition to the Military Collection is a fine gouache painting of soldiers playing cards in camp stateside during the period of the Second World War.

Gaylord Flory PAY DAY

In anticipation of war, Congress passed the Selective and Training Act of 1940 requiring all men between the ages of 21 and 35 to register with their local draft boards. This resulted in a massive influx of inductees into training camps around the country who were housed in temporary barrack buildings and recreation halls. At a number of camps, artist-recruits came together to create art programs designed to brighten-up the new wooden buildings in addition to creating recreational programs. One of the earliest and most successful soldier art programs was at Fort Custer near Battle Creek, Michigan. Self-styled the ‘Fort Custer Illustrators’, a group of soldier-artists began creating paintings and murals representing army life in the early summer of 1941. The illustrators held a number of exhibitions at the Camp Service Club and the first to showcase soldier art opened in early August 1941. So impressive was the quality of the artwork that a selection was chosen for exhibition in February 1942 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This painting by Gaylord Flory entitled Pay Day, is typical of the high standard of art achieved in the camps.