About Peter Harrington

Curator of the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection

The Killing Field that was Omaha Beach

On this 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the Normandy coast, it is worth pausing to reflect on the sacrifice of the soldiers who died on Omaha and Utah Beaches along with their allied comrades on Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches. Flags

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 was a bright sunny day as the tour bus turned the corner onto the Avenue de la Liberation that parallels Omaha Beach. The previous evening, I had presented an illustrated talk to various alumni on a cruise along the coasts of western Europe, about three artists who covered the preparations and landings. Their pencil sketches and water-colors were still fresh in my memory as we disembarked the bus near the old war memorial adjacent to the new stainless steel monument known as “Les Braves” dedicated in 2004 on the beach itself, yet the contrasts could not have been greater. As I walked towards the water’s edge across the beach it was impossible to visualize the horror of June 6, 1944. Omaha Beach is a vast strand of firm, level sand, hence its choice as a landing beach. As the tide was out, it took several minutes to reach the water’s edge but as I turned around, the realization came upon me. I had walked several hundred yards and as I looked inland towards the bluffs edging the beach, I imagined what an impossible task it had been for the thousands of soldiers to navigate the dead zone with little protection other than the obstacles that had been erected by the Germans. Many never made it beyond a few yards. Eye-witnesses spoke of the sea flowing red with bodies floating by. Combat engineers who landed later in the day as the darkness set in kept stumbling over objects – the bodies of their fallen countrymen.

Burying the dead in the low land behind the beachOne of the artists, the late William Bostick, USN, who donated several water-colors to the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection back in the 1990’s, also sent a copy of a sketch he had made shortly after the initial landings. As he moved inland from the landing craft that had delivered him to the beach, he passed rows of dead soldiers covered with sheets.

Another artist, Manuel Bromberg, USA, who covered the landings in an official capacity, arrived three days later and observed the aftermath. He was met with a scene of utter devastation. Pulling Bromberg study for D Dayout his pocket notebook, he made quick pencil sketches. One of these showed a dead soldier being pulled away to the makeshift cemetery. He observed German prisoners forced to remove the dead and dying. These sketches are now in the Military Collection. By close of day on June 6, over 2,000 Americans had been killed, wounded or were missing, and many others were to die in the coming days and weeks ahead. Today, the scars of battle have been removed but it is in the nearby American Military Cemetery at St. Laurent that the stark reality of D-Day hits home.

Military Collection Digital Archive surpasses 20,000 images!

The Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection digital archive has just reached an important milestone – the 20,000th image! The project to scan all the prints, drawings, paintings and water-colors in the collection began in September 2004 and through the efforts of many staff members and students, is now the largest repository of special collections’ materials at Brown. While the original focus of the collection was the history and especially the iconography of military uniforms, Mrs. Brown collected widely around the subject acquiring thousands of images depicting the military history of the world circa 1500-1945.

As to the significant image, it comes from an album of chromolithographs depicting World War One scenes published in Japan by Shobido & Co. between August and November 1914. These rather garish and outlandish prints titled The Illustration of the Graet [sic] European War depict fanciful images of the fighting on the Western Front and elsewhere. The Japanese had a tradition of creating wood-block prints and many fine examples depicting their wars against China in 1894-95, and Russia in 1904-05 exist in the collection (yet to be digitized). The current series, while not of the same standard or quality of the earlier ones, is nonetheless telling in its portrayal of a war that was being fought thousands of miles away. The fact that these highly imaginative prints also include English titles suggests that the publishers also hoped to tap the foreign market.

This particular scene is straight out of an H.G. Wells epic and shows a fantastic confluence of airships and airplanes dueling in the skies above, what appears to be Paris. Aptly titled Severe battle in the sky French and German, it was printed on October 31, 1914 and published three days later. While the artist is unidentified, he may have been Ryozo Tanaka who worked for Shobido and is known to have authored at least one similar scene.

It is only through the combined efforts of many members of the Brown University Library staff that this incredible achievement could be made. In addition to the work of Peter Harrington, curator of the collection, and the staff of the Digital Production Services unit of the Center for Digital Scholarship, we have seen significant contributions in the form of high-quality metadata record creation from Betsy Fishman and Henry Gould in technical services and scanning of the graphics by a number of student employees. Further images will be uploaded in the months and years ahead.

Special thanks to Toshiyuki Minami, Sr. Library Specialist, East Asian Collection, for translating this album of prints.

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Emanuel Leutze’s Portrait of General Ambrose Burnside at Antietam

In 1863, the German history painter, Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868), celebrated for his 1850 painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, completed a large portrait of General Ambrose Burnside at the Battle of Antietam. This was one of a series of Union commanders that the artist planned to paint but it appears that only this painting and one depicting General Grant in his tent were actually completed.

The painting depicts the general standing in uniform just before the capture of the Stone Bridge during the Battle of Antietam, Maryland, September 17, 1862. His left hand rests on the hilt of a sword presented to him by the people of the state. Completed early the following year from life and exhibited with some fanfare at the annual exhibition of the Boston Athenaeum in May, the huge canvas measuring 11 feet by 8 feet, was presented to Brown University on August 26th, 1863 through John R. Bartlett acting on behalf of various friends of the university who subscribed a total of $1,675 for its purchase. These included such distinguished luminaries as John Carter Brown, Robert and Thomas Ives, Governor William Sprague and his brother Amasa, former Governor Elisha Dyer, future Governor Henry Lippitt, and Republican Senator, Thomas A. Jenckes. Each gave between $50 and $100.

Unfortunately the large dimensions of the framed canvas meant that it was too large for many of the buildings on the campus. Some places were considered such as Rogers Hall, Manning Hall, the John Hay Library, Faunce House and the John Carter Brown Library, and eventually it was hung in the balcony of Sayles Hall as can be seen in the photograph taken prior to the installation of the organ in 1903. Thereafter it was moved to the Engineering Building but in 1938, it was decided to present it to the Rhode Island Statehouse on permanent loan. Today, it hangs at the end of a side corridor on the first floor outside the Office of the Senate President (Room 117). A study for the painting is in the Redwood Library, Newport.

Today, it hangs at the end of a side corridor on the first floor outside the Office of the Senate President (Room 117). A study for the painting is in the Redwood Library, Newport.

Reuben Aldridge Guild. History of Brown University, with Illustrative Documents. Providence, 1867, pp. 291-292.
Barbara S. Groseclose. Emanuel Leutze, 1816-1868. Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, 1975, page 234.

Melton Prior (1845-1910) Exhibit

Melton Prior was one of the leading special artists in late Victorian Britain. He worked for the Illustrated London News from the early 1870’s until 1904 covering many events around the world especially wars. Having an ability to quickly sketch the scenes before him, his drawings were sent back to London where they were engraved on wood-blocks for printing in the Saturday issues of the ILN. From his first work covering the war in Ashanti, West Africa, in 1873, he went on to cover conflicts in Egypt, Sudan, Somaliland, South Africa, Crete, Turkey, and Manchuria. Prior also traveled on a number of Royal tours including accompanying the Prince of Wales to Canada in 1901.

The current exhibition in the Bopp Seminar Room located on the top floor of the John Hay Library, commemorates the centenary of his death on 2 November 1910, and includes original drawings from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection drawn for the ILN by Prior during various conflicts. An article on the artist written by the curator has also recently been published in MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.

Prior was one of two major artists employed by the ILN, the other being William Simpson (1823-1899), and the Military Collection owns a number of original works by this Scottish artist as well as manuscript material. Two letters addressed to Simpson have recently been acquired, both relating to Simpson’s time in France during the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71: a letter from the ILN owner and founder, William Ingram; and one from the chief editor, Mason Jackson.

Evacuation of Holland, 1793 New Print

The Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection recently acquired a rare late 18th century hand-colored British satirical print entitled Evacuation of Holland, or Fire and Water too much for Dumourier.  Published in London by W. Dent in March 1793,  it relates to the evacuation of the Netherlands by the French after the defeat at Neewinden near Liege, Belgium. This was not a fight but the result of an informal armistice on March 1793 between General Dumouriez and the Prince of Coburg.

The image is currently on display in the lobby case situated in the foyer of the John Hay Library.

In this scene British soldiers are feeding three local  men poised on a wall who in turn are defecating  on the French soldiers who are being hit by the ‘missiles’.

ASKB Fellow

Mr. Ron Field of Gloucestershire, England, will be spending a week in the military collection in mid-April examining material on the American Civil War. Ron is a recognized authority on the uniforms of the Civil War, and his most recent book, Bluejackets, dealt with the uniforms of the Union navy between 1861 and 1865. During his time in the military collection, he will examine the Todd albums on northern states during the war as he has been commissioned by Schiffer to write a book on the early uniforms of the Union army.