Massive ‘Gettysburg’ painting finds new home in Spartanburg
It began as a temporary visit.
On loan for a time from the Johnson Collection, The Battle of Gettysburg: Repulse of Longstreet’s Assault, July 3, 1863 will now not be checking out of the Spartanburg County Public Libraries’ permanent collection. On display since May 2016 in the Moseley Gallery at the Headquarters Library, the panoramic painting records the dramatic sweep, as well as particular details, of the longest—and bloodiest—engagement of the American Civil War. The defeat of Confederate forces in the Pennsylvania countryside marked a critical turning point in the conflict’s outcome.
A gift from Susu and George Dean Johnson, Jr., it measures 20 feet in length and over seven feet in height. The monumental canvas was acquired by the Johnson Collection in 2004. In an effort to increase its visibility and maximize its teaching potential, the library leadership and Johnson family initiated a public-private partnership in 2016 which resulted in the work’s relocation from a corporate headquarters to the Moseley Gallery. At its new—and now permanent—home, the painting is available to the Headquarters Library’s nearly 500,000 annual visitors. “Understanding our nation’s complex past is perhaps the best way to prepare for its future,” George Johnson noted. “America’s history belongs to its people, and by placing this remarkable document in public hands, we hope to ensure that the moments it records and the lessons it imparts are accessible to everyone.”
“The Libraries’ Board of Trustees and the Friends of the Spartanburg County Libraries are grateful and honored that the Johnson family, who have been long-time patrons of the Library, are entrusting us with The Battle of Gettysburg,” says Mary Speed Lynch, Chair of the Spartanburg County Public Libraries’ Trustees. “This widely renowned and much celebrated work of art is an invaluable resource for scholars, art lovers, students and historians.”
Read more about how the library is displaying the work from the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
The Battle of Gettysburg was executed by James Walker (1819-1889), an English immigrant who earned accolades as a painter of battle scenes during the Mexican War, skills he later put to use making sketches of key Civil War conflicts. After the war, Walker began to collaborate with John Badger Bachelder (1825-1894), a photographer and topographic artist who had been attached to the Union army as an illustrator. In the immediate aftermath of the 1863 conflict, Bachelder began an on-site study of the scene and the principals involved. The resulting isometric map led to Walker’s commission to create a massive painting that details the battle’s particulars. Completed in 1870, Walker’s grand canvas captures the dramatic conclusion of the three-day battle, which marked a turning point in the war’s tide. Bachelder’s meticulous research and Walker’s precise technical skill combined to produce an epic visual record of the event, including regimental positions, combat vignettes, Union and Confederate soldiers, noble steeds, victory, and defeat.
Established in 2002, the Johnson Collection includes more than 1,200 works of fine art relating to the American South. Those works are made available to the public at numerous locations throughout Spartanburg, including TJC Gallery, located at 154 West Main St. This exhibition space hosts rotating exhibitions drawn from the collection’s holdings and is open to the public at no charge on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., as well as during the city’s monthly Art Walk. In addition, large-scale exhibitions travel to museums across the Southeast. The collection’s newest book, Central to Their Lives: Southern Women Artists in the Johnson Collection was released in June by the University of South Carolina Press. That publication’s companion exhibition is presently on view at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, and will travel to six additional venues in six different states through 2021.
The mission of the Spartanburg County Public Libraries is to create, connect, change.