Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Sinking of the Cumberland

One hundred and forty-six years ago today, an epic naval battle took place in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The central event on that day was the sinking of the USS Cumberland. I had the honor of commemorating the event in a 30 x 40 inch painting commissioned by the National Geographic Society. This is the first time I’ve shared the painting publicly.

In a future post, I’ll describe what went into the painting, which took well over a year to complete. I’ll also share more about the artwork in an illustrated lecture that I’ll be giving this Sunday, March 9 at the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania, as well as on Thursday, March 13 at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia. The Mariner’s Museum currently has the original painting on exhibition.

“Give them a broadside, boys, as she goes!”

The USS Cumberland went down at 3:37 p.m. on March 8, 1862, the victim of the Virginia’s (also known as the Merrimac’s) 1500 pound iron ram and a relentless barrage that covered the deck with carnage. Lieutenant George U. Morris gave the command for all hands to save themselves, but he remained on deck to encourage the decimated pivot gun crew, who took a final shot even as the waves closed around them.

To Buchanan’s request for surrender, he defiantly replied, “Never! We will sink with our colors flying.” The destruction of the Cumberland was a decisive but short-lived victory for the Confederate Navy. The Virginia, which sustained only superficial damage, survived to challenge the Monitor the following day.
Read the full series:

Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 1A: The Backstory
Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 1B: The Research
Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 2: Choosing the Scene
Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 3: Acting it Out
Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 4: Final Art


Erik Bongers said...

Wow !
Just to name something, I really love the dramatic use of black smoke covering the left top corner all the way to the right.

Looking forward to read 'the-making-of'.
Having said that, I think this post is a good occasion for me to say that it's very easy to write a handfull of elaborate comments on an inspiring blog than it would be to actually try to write one myself.

Anonymous said...

I'm also looking forward to the story behind the painting of this superb hommage to a tragic event, although intent observation of your daily posts and technique tips already has me guessing. ;)

Charles Alexander said...

Can't wait to read more. There is so much specific action and emotion in each tiny figure that you've painted here. Amazing how even at that small size, I am drawn into the individual drama of each sailor facing catastrophe. My imagination is working right along with you. What a triumph of the illustrator's art. And an education in picture making-- thank you for posting the piece.

Sid Dhar said...

I am awestruck by the amount of detail in the painting. Each individual is doing something in a unique manner.

I specially liked the shirt-less man who is preparing to jump on the top-right of the painting. You can tell by his current position what his action will be, what is going through his mind. Incredible...Also the smoke, the waves and the blood on some figures is awesome.

Looking forward to

Kevin Hedgpeth said...

An amazing illustration and exercise in intricate visual storytelling!

James-- I would be interested in hearing about your time management process-- for daily work and on individual projects/commissions.

Unknown said...

Well, as a maritime artist I couldn't resist commenting on this one. I've been reading your blog with great interest since I discovered it recently, and have been meaning to comment.

I too have painted this scene, for a children's picture book about the battle between the Monitor and the Virginia. Your research, as you know, is perfect on all the small details of the ships and the actions of that moment. It's really a picture that one can study - lose oneself in, like the great illustrations of old. What was it you said in an earlier post, invite snd delight? This painting really does just that. I'd love to hear details of the process of putting it all together.