Winslow Homer concluded the icon piece entitled Prisoners from the Front in 1866 while working as a field artist in Virginia during the American Civil War. The artist had recently started working with oil painting, and this particular artwork was very significant for his career and reputation. The work depicts a scene that happened on June 21st, 1864, where a Union officer called Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow, captured three Confederate officers, in Petersburg.
The American artist painted Prisoners from the Front during the Reconstruction period – meaning the country was going through a process of restructuring after the end of the war. There was still a high tension between southerners and former slaves, and Homer translated this intense feeling beautifully into the artwork. To the left, there is a group of Confederate soldiers who have already surrendered, as their weapons are on the ground in the forefront. The man on the left looks to be the youngest of the prisoners, and his posture demonstrates he is trying to hide the fact that he is nervous, by placing his hand in his pockets. The oldest of the three is the man in the middle, who has a gray beard and hair and stands in a submissive pose with his hands in front of his stomach. The most important figure of the group of Confederates is possibly the soldier on the right, who stands in a confident pose with his hand on his hip and staring directly at the Union officer in front of him.
In the background, the dark environment shows soldiers and horses after the battle. During the time of war, many green areas would have all of the trees cut down to help supply the army with firewood, as well as clearing the battlefield for the troops. The most interesting features in this painting are not noticed immediately. Homer focused on the uprising peace of the nation, and not the victory itself – this can be seen as all of the men are on equal grounds. The horizon line basically meets their head in the same position, suggesting a view of equality. After art historians concluded tests on this canvas, they discovered Homer made many changes to the artwork, including the addition of a Union soldier behind the three figures on the left. The figure is blurry but suggests the presence of a black soldier, representing a bold and important statement during turbulent times.
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