Artist: Tompkins H. Matteson
Title: The Spirit that Won the War

Oil on canvas
Overall: 36 1/4 x 48 1/8 in. (92.1 x 122.2 cm) Overall, Frame: 48 1/4 x 60 in. (122.6 x 152.4 cm)
Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.


How many groups of people are in the painting?

In each group, what things do you recognize in this painting? What objects or things seem new to you?

Is there a central figure in this painting?  Who?  Why do you think so?


Within this stirring portrait of a Revolutionary War Minuteman preparing for battle, the artist includes  multiple centers of activity.  In the lower right, children melt kitchenware to make bullets. Behind them, a veteran of an earlier war who looks on while another man reads news of the Declaration of Independence.  To the left, a woman greets two armed men at the door, while yet another group prepares food and weapons.  At the center of the painting, three women flank a young man: one woman provides instruction, another secures his knapsack, and another offers him a satchel. He looks into the eyes of the woman to his right, possibly a tender moment between mother and son.  Each group plays its part in sending a young man to war, aiding in his hopeful victory. The artist, Tompkins H. Matteson, has captured the variety of emotions associated with historic events, between family members and friends and from children to elders.


Matteson's initial success came through the American Art-Union, a New York-based association active from 1839 to 1852.  For a five-dollar annual fee, members received an engraved reproduction of a popular painting and a chance to win original works.  In 1844 the Art-Union's managers were especially interested in "subjects concerning national history and literature," and Matteson's paintings of typical Americans being swept up in great historical events are a variation on this theme.  In 1845 Matteson completed The Spirit of Seventy-Six, which he then sold to the Art-Union who raffled it off.  Matteson revisited the same subject of a young soldier off to war, reworking his ideas and finally completing the Chrysler Museum of Art’s The Spirit That Won The War.


What is the “spirit” that Matteson is trying to show in this painting?

What would a painting about the American spirit look like today?