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Manet and the American Civil War: The Battle of the "Kearsarge" and the "Alabama"

Exhibition dates: June 3-August 17, 2003
Exhibition location: Special Exhibition Galleries, Second floor
Press preview: Monday, June 2, 10:00 a.m.-noon

In June of 1864, an important episode in the American Civil War took place in international waters off the coast of Cherbourg, France. The duel between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama created a sensation in Europe and America alike, and caught the imagination of the French artist Édouard Manet (1832-83), who made a painting of the battle before rushing to Boulogne to see the victorious Kearsarge. The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently acquired Manet's portrait of the Kearsarge and to celebrate the acquisition will present a small exhibition devoted to the battle, Manet's response, and the effect of Manet's paintings on his immediate friends. Manet and the American Civil War: The Battle of the "Kearsarge" and the "Alabama" is a dossier exhibition that opens on June 3.

The exhibition is made possible by Prudential Securities.

During the Civil War, when Union forces blocked Confederate ports, the Confederacy countered by waging guerilla warfare on Union merchant ships. One of the most feared Confederate raiders was the sloop-of-war, Alabama. On June 19, 1864, two ships - the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama - engaged in battle in the international waters just off the coast of Cherbourg. The date and time of the encounter had been announced in advance, and spectators lined the cliffs to watch. In less than two hours, the Alabama was sunk. Members of its crew were rescued by small craft sailing nearby. The battle captivated the attention of the French people, and Manet - who as a teenager had served in the French navy - raced to the nearby port of Boulogne to see the ship at anchor. He painted a depiction of the battle (which he had not witnessed), now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as a portrait of the Kearsarge, now in the Metropolitan Museum.

Included in the exhibition will be five maritime paintings, as well as related watercolors and etchings, completed by Manet in Boulogne during the summer of 1864. Manet's influence on other artists will be apparent in works by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), Claude Monet (1840-1926), and James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). Photographs of the two sloops-of-war, ships' logs, maps, and letters written by people who witnessed the battle will help situate the artwork within the larger context of the American Civil War. Also on view will be images that influenced the young Manet, such as a 17th-century Dutch naval scene and woodblock prints by the Japanese artist Hiroshige (1797-1858).

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue.

The exhibition catalogue is made possible in part by the Oceanic Heritage Foundation.

There will be educational programs for a variety of audiences, including lectures and gallery talks for the general public, a teacher workshop, and several programs for families.

The Web site of the Metropolitan Museum (www.metmuseum.org) will feature the exhibition.

The exhibition is organized by Gary Tinterow, Engelhard Curator of European Paintings, with the assistance of Rebecca A. Rabinow, Assistant Research Curator in the Department of European Paintings.

After their showing at the Metropolitan Museum, many of the works in this presentation will join a traveling exhibition of Manet's seascapes scheduled to be shown at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

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