Jefferson Davis, The Forlorn Soldier by William Davis
Jefferson Davis, The Forlorn Soldier by William Davis Jefferson Davis, The Forlorn Soldier by William Davis Jefferson Davis, The Forlorn Soldier by William Davis Jefferson Davis, The Forlorn Soldier by William Davis
Jefferson Davis, The Forlorn Soldier by William Davis

Jefferson Davis, The Forlorn Soldier by William Davis

  • Jefferson Davis is the subject of this rare genre scene by the American artist William Davis
  • The Civil War-era work offers insight into the psyche of the nation during the devastating conflict
  • Capturing Davis as a down-on-his-luck cavalier, it anticipates the end of the war
  • In terms of subject, the work is a rarity from this popular painter
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Item No. 30-8864
$178,500
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William M. Davis
1829-1920 | American

Jefferson Davis, The Forlorn Cavalier in Search of the Last Ditch

Signed and dated "W.M. Davis 1864" (lower right)
Oil on canvas

A forlorn Jefferson Davis is the subject of this compelling genre scene by the American artist William M. Davis. A rare example of the painter's Civil War-era output, it offers a rare glimpse into the psyche of the nation during this devastating conflict.

Unlike other conflicts around the world, very few sweeping battle scenes of the American Civil War were ever composed - there simply was no market for history paintings of battles that pitted Americans against Americans. Instead, both landscapes paintings and genre scenes such as the present portrait became popular during this period. Genre painting, in particular, brought a human element to the conflict, exploring the ways in which the war impacted the daily lives of everyday Americans, while also revealing the nation's deep-seated hope for reconciliation.

Jefferson Davis, The Forlorn Cavalier in Search of the Last Ditch offers a somewhat tongue-in-cheek view of the first and only president of the Confederate States. By 1864, the year the painting was composed, it would have become increasingly clear that the North would emerge as the victors of the prolonged conflict. Davis depicts this "forlorn cavalier" not as a glorious leader in full military regalia, but rather as a down-on-his-luck soldier mounted on a clearly exhausted horse. The American flag he grasps in his hands is damaged and shredded, symbolizing the wounds the nation will need to heal following the resolution of the war. As a whole, the work is both a humorous and poignant response to a conflict that would have resounding consequences on the country for years to come.

Living and painting in Port Jefferson for most of his life, William Davis was renowned for his seascapes, landscapes and genre scenes of this picturesque region in upstate New York. Though he was largely self taught, his friendship with the celebrated genre painter William Sydney Mount had a significant influence on the development of his style. In 1868, he briefly opened a studio in New York City, only to return to Port Jefferson in 1872, where he would remain for the rest of his career. He was a frequent exhibitor at the National Academy of Design and the Brooklyn Art Association, and a one-man retrospective of his work was mounted in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1894. Today, his works can be found in collections such as the Suffolk Museum (New York) and the New York State Historical Society.

Dated 1864

Canvas: 14 7/8" high x 17 1/8" wide
Frame: 23 3/4" high x 25 3/4" wide

Provenance:
Captain E.P. Dorr, 1864
Mr. Merrin, 1878
Mr. and Mrs. James O. Keene
Detroit Institute of Arts
Private collection, New York
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans, 2019
specifications
Period: 1816-1918
Origin:America
Subject:Genre
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