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Jasper Francis Cropsey’s Spirit of War

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 Jasper Francis Cropsey was a painter in the late 1800s who created works based off English and American landscapes, scenery and landmarks.  One of his most popular pieces was titled The Spirit of War created in 1851.  It was part of a two piece collection the other painting was called The Spirit of Peace.  This work was the exact opposite and counterpart of The Spirit of War displaying the two very different sides that split the country’s feelings towards war.  Some of this painting’s characteristics are: the  dimensions being 3’ 8” x 5’ 8” it is an oil painting supported on a canvas in the landscape genre.  Jasper Francis Cropsey created this painting to display swirling dark clouds, the looming castle on the jagged rocks, and soldiers riding on horseback into battle.

Jasper Francis Cropsey’s painting The Spirit of War gives viewers the immediate feeling of stress and angst for the battle awaiting beyond the dark, looming castle.  This piece of art was created to remind its viewers of the foundational tensions experienced in mid19th Century America with war and depression looming over the country like a specter.  Jasper Francis Cropsey describes this painting himself as “promising naught but the uncertain and gloomy future of warlike times.”[1]  He gave a distinct eerie feeling of war with the dark colored shadows and jagged rocks, there are even soldiers clearly painted on horseback heading up into the looming castle touching the dark clouds, symbolizing their march into battle.  The war that specifically struck a chord of memory with spectators was the one that had just finished, the Mexican War.

This painting was created in the few years directly after the Mexican War which occurred from April 25, 1846 to February 2, 1848.  This war began with the president of the time James K. Polk, believing that the United States had a “manifest destiny”. By this he meant that the United States had the right and was justified in spreading and expanding across North America all the way to the Pacific Ocean.  Fighting was stopped, on Feb. 2, 1848, when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was finally signed thus, ending the war once and for all.  However, by this point the United States had taken almost all of present-day California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico from Mexico, which was about one-third of its territory.  Leaving the United States in a time of tension that was being felt across the nation.  This tension was due to the fact that even though the war was technically over, there was still an impending uneasiness on whether the western territories would be free or slave states.

This work of art painted by Jasper Francis Cropsey did a wonderfully perfect job of capturing how people felt in the aftermath of a difficult war.  It was admired by many and since received great critique such as: “the earnest young artist created a powerful and lasting image of the fear and hopelessness brought about by war, eerily foreshadowing the bloody conflict that would envelop his country in the following decade.” [2]

– Meghan La Guardia, Marist College

[1] “The Spirit of War.” Art Object Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. Retrieved from http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.56598.html

[2] ibid

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