Friday, June 12, 2015

The Artist’s Sketchbook: Civil War Sketches In the Becker Collection

Sketch From the Becker Collection, copyright The Becker Collection

Few places and conditions on the earth are less involved in art or creation than the battlefield.  In the field of fire, destruction, not creation, is the name of the game.  But in the pre-photography days, sketches were often the most efficient way of documenting man’s inhumanity to man.

These thoughts came to mind while paging through some of the sketches in the Becker Collection, which currently reside in Boston.  The Becker Collection consists of more than 650 sketches, and is the largest private collection of Civil War drawings, and is second only to the collection of the Library of Congress.  Artist Joseph Becker (1841-1910) was an artist-reporter in the mid-19th century for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.  Becker and other artist-reporters satisfied the public’s appetite for images of the war as it progressed, sending eyewitness accounts on all facets of military life.

Photography at the time was often staged, or capable of recording quiet and at-peace moments.  These sketches were not the finished works that would appear in print; rather, they were preparatory sketches to keep perspective, scope and incident in mind when Becker and a cadre of other artists would make finished drawings.

Becker was born in Pottsville, PA.  He started at Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper as an errand boy.  He had no formal training in art, but newspaper staff encouraged his raw talent, and in 1863, Leslie sent Becker to accompany the Union Army and make drawings.  When not sketching the battlefield, Becker recorded scenes of daily life in the army camps.

The Becker Collection travels often, and they have orchestrated many outstanding retrospectives.  If it travels to your city or town, it comes highly recommended.

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