Arts Desk

Reviewed: Mathew Brady’s Union Generals at National Portrait Gallery

The sesquicentennial of the Civil War is bringing a number of thematic exhibits to the National Portrait Gallery; the most recent is a selection of images of Union generals by the most famous photographer of the era, Mathew Brady. The museum has created modern prints from original negatives, all in the petite format known as carte de visite—a format that unfortunately has a tendency to strain the eyes, particularly when the subject sits further than necessary from the lens and is shown in a full-body pose. As usual, the National Portrait Gallery’s captions are well crafted, but the exhibit is hampered by monotony—a lot of similar-looking, uniformed people in an identical photographic format, in a selection devoid of any of Brady’s more familiar battlefield and encampment images. A few faces stand out, including Ulysses S. Grant (because of his familiarity, even at 150 years’ remove; shown below), William Tecumseh Sherman (for the unmistakable fire in his eyes), Ambrose Burnside (for his celebrated sideburns), and Joseph Hooker (top, whose charisma, extolled in the wall card, is clear from his striking good looks). Ultimately, the exhibit will be of most interest to Civil War devotees; it offers lots of dates and places but does frustratingly little to explain what the daily life of a Civil War general was really like.

The exhibition is on view to May 31, 2015 at the National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Streets NW. (202) 633-1000. The blog post originally misspelled Mathew Brady's first name.

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