Historical Realism

When I began my research for September 22, 1862 – The Will of God Prevails, I was drawn to Abraham Lincoln’s own words when he said. “I made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee is driven back … I will crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves.”

Significance of the Painting’s Elements
On September 22, 1862, Lincoln gathered his cabinet and read aloud his Emancipation Proclamation. My painting is a snapshot of his cluttered desk that morning prior to the called meeting as he “dressed it (the proclamtion) over a little.” The soon-to-be-read document’s four pages sit on a copy of the Declaration of Independence, which Lincoln proclaimed is “the Father of all moral principle.”

Lincoln was known to write his thoughts on small pieces of paper and later assemble them for his documents or speeches. The small note on the brim of his hat, written in Lincoln’s hand, refers to the first line from his “Meditation of the Divine Will,”  written in early September, 1862. In his stovepipe hat is Special Order No. 191, which was discovered lying on the ground just days later by two Union soldiers, detailing General Lee’s orders for the invasion of Maryland. Also in Lincoln’s hat is a telegram from General McClellan confirming that Lee was driven back at Antietam on September 17th and giving the President the victory he needed to formally announce his Emancipation Proclamation.

Slumped forward in Lincoln’s hat is Jack the Doll—a soldier dressed in a fiery red and blue Civil War Zouave uniform that Lincoln’s sons, Tad and Willie, played with. Jack’s story reveals the horrors of war. He was branded a deserter one day, a spy the next and even fell asleep at his post. Following hanging or death by firing squad, the boys would bury Jack in the Rose Garden. After digging up the doll numerous times, the boys held a mock trial with their father, during which Lincoln proclaimed, “the doll Jack is pardoned by order of the President.”

Written on another scrap of paper are the words, “shall then, thenceforward and forever, be free”—seven words from the final sentence of the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation—a draft altered only slightly in the version depicted. These words, which changed a war and the lives of so many, were the starting point for my painting.

The family Bible as well as numerous other books, including the War Powers of the President and the morning newspaper, each with its own significance, are placed strategically, completing the scene showing Lincoln’s greatest document.

The Problem with Lincoln’s Desk
I spent over eight months researching Lincoln for my painting, during which I made three trips to the Lincoln Presidential Library. I also spoke to some of the nation’s top Lincoln scholars to get help locating certain documents or books that would aid me in recreating Lincoln’s desk as it might have appeared that important September morning.

With over half of my underpainting complete, I realized that the desk I’d used in my composition didn’t arrive at the White House until after the Emanicipation Proclamation was written and delivered. I then had to locate the proper desk and begin again.

The Will of God Prevails was critiqued by Greg Albert in the June 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, available at www.Northlightshop.com. See more of Kutscher’s work at www.kutscherfineart.com.

Click here to submit your artwork to the Artists Network Art Clinic forum. If selected, your artwork will be critiqued by artist and art instructor Greg Albert, and may also appear in The Artist’s Magazine.




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