James Hope

(29 November 1818 - 20 October 1892)

Primarily a landscape artist, whose Civil War paintings sometimes suffer from that fact, Hope joined the Second Vermont Volunteers at the outbreat of the war. In 1862, at Antietam, he witnessed the carnage of "Bloody Lane" -- the sunken road that became filled with the bodies of Confederate soldiers who had been caught in a Union crossfire. After the Battle, The Bloody Lane -- Battle of Atietam, Mryland, 1862 (oil, 1889), one of his most heartfelt Civil War paintings, was executed in the hope that it would help teach "coming generations of possible soldiers ...and how terrible a thing war is.The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference


The paintings of Antietam by the Vermont artist, James Hope, provide an example of the difficulties artists experenced trying to paint the literal reality of combat. Hope made a dogged attempt to sustain his postwar artistic career by creating paintings based on his firsthand experiences in the army. Forty-two years old when he enlisted, Hope helped recruit and organize the B Company of the Vermont Second Infantry, which was mustered into service June 1, 1861. He served primarily as a topographical engineer making field maps. He witnessed no fewer than eleven battles beginning with First Manassas, often seeking advice from Frederic Church. Following the war, he aspired to translate his skills into making what he called "huge historical panoramas to preserv for posterity" based on his experiences." However, ambition outstripped interest, and the market for his work was lukewarm at best. For his massive "The Army of the Potomac (Encamped at Cumerland Landing on the Pamunky Rivier)" (MFA, Boston), Hope took as much care in making sure each general appeard on his favorite horse as he did positioning the troops accurately. "Despite the broad sweep of the panorama and his clever inclusion of what was reputed to be eighty thousand soldiers, the painting turned out to be more impressive for those statistics than for its overal aesthetic effect.

At Antietam in September 1862, Hope's brigade withstood withering fire the entire day, although it is not clear if the artist was with his troops or sidelined by illness. In either event, his sketches served as the basis for his later paintings, as did photographs taken by Alexander Gardner after the battle. When Mathew Brady placed these photographs on view in New YOrk, they drew crowds that were as much repulsed as intrigued. Beginning in 1865, as the war ended, Hope created a suite of paintings documenting the cousee of the battle. His choice Antietam was unusual. It was the bloodiest day in U. S. History, and a battle that ended in a strategic draw, with the Union claiming victory as Confederate General Robert E. Lee withdrew his troops from the field. As a resuld, few artists chose this battle for their subject. Unlike traditional history painters, Hope's approach to the carnage at Antietam resembled a morality play. His intent was not to valorize, but instead to paint a mournful meditation on the true toll of battle. Enamoured by statisti, the artist wrote his own texts to accompany each painting, including sobering casualty counts to drive home the futility of war.

In this series of four paintins, Hope chronicled the day of the battle, September 17, from dawn to dusk. His sequence began with the morning's sunny optimism as the troops entered the Piper cornfield and culminated in the twilit horror of Bloody Lane. As was true of many landscape painters who enlisted, Hope saw the battlefield as a classic landscape rather than a toporaphic chessboard. His diminutive soldiers invade the cornfield, swallowed up in the late summer harvest still to be reaped. White clouds of smoke betoken the unseen cannonade and the exchange of fire. On closer inspection, fallen soldiers crushn the mature stalks as they fall to earth. In the final painting at day's end, the body count overwhelms the landscape, and the Sunken Road is a trench filled with a mass of bodies. Hope's daring and unpleasant composition draws heavily from Gardner's photographs of the scene. In doing so, Hope asserts an air of authenticity but presents an unwelcome scene of the carnage. What had worked in the photographs ultimately did not translate well into paintings of jumbled limbs and dead soldiers. The Civil War and American Art. © Copyright Ownership: Eleanor Jones Harvey, Yale University Press, 2012.

James Hope was born in Scotland on November 29, 1818. After the death of his mother, his father immigrated to Canada. Hope’s father died in 1831, and James left Canada to apprentice as a wagon-maker in Fairhaven, Vermont. In 1841, he married Julia Marietta Smith (b. December 28, 1820) in West Rutland.

Hope developed a skill for portraiture (and later for painting landscapes). After studying in Montreal, he supported his family by teaching painting and drawing at Castleton Seminary. In the early 1850s, he took a studio in New York City where he painted and marketed his work during the winter and returned to his home in Castleton in the summer. In 1872, Hope built a studio and art gallery in Watkins Glen, New York, where he lived until his death on October 20, 1892. Julia Hope died in Watkins Glen September 2, 1906.

During the Civil War, Hope served as a Captain in the Second Vermont Regiment. He made “on-the-spot sketches” which he later developed into paintings of several great battles of the war.

James and Julia Hope’s four children who survived to adulthood were: Henry Francis (b. Oct. 4, 1842-d. Jun. 2, 1916); (James) Douglas (b. Feb. 1, 1846-d. Jan. 24,1929); Julia Adelaide or “Addie” (b. Nov. 13, 1848-d. Mar. 20, 1871); and Jessie (b. Nov. 30, 1850-d. Jan. 24, 1893). Addie married George A. Stearns in 1868; she died in 1871 in the Argentine Republic, where she is buried. Vermont Historical Society

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This person died over 70 years ago (in 1892). Creative works made by this person are in the PUBLIC DOMAIN (not copyrighted).