The Civil War and American Art

The Civil War and American Art

Dates and Eras: 

  • antebellum
  • The War Years
  • and Post War


These two links cover the artistic method within the Civil War, as well as the context that influenced it. One link contains a timeline containing notable Civil War events and notable pieces of artwork. The other link contains a series of short podcast clips that explain Civil War era painting method, focusing on one or two paintings within the Smithsonian collection for each section. Explanations are done by the Senior Curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Podcasts cover actual artistic method as well as the portrayal of general moods.

Image Source: Uncle Tom and Little Eva by Robert Duncanson, within timeline.



  • Homefront
  • Soldiers
  • African Americans
  • Women


  • VS.7
  • VS.8
  • USI.8 d
  • USI.9
  • USII.3
  • VUS.6 e
  • VUS.7


Suggested Questions: 

  1. What do you think is the most significant painting related to the Civil War and why?

  2. What are 3 common themes that you see in the photographs and/or paintings? Describe them with detail, and give examples from the artwork.

  3. Imagine how people felt when they saw photos of the dead during the Civil War. Why might people look on photos of war dead differently today?

  4. What types of emotions are being played with in the paintings compared to the photographs on the timeline? In what ways are they the same or different?

Suggested Activities: 

  1. Have students pick an event on the timeline and an artwork to research more in depth. Have them explain how or why they think they are related (ie. Uncle Tom’s Cabin/ Uncle Tom and Little Eva). Is the work a reaction or expansion? Does the work have underlying meanings that are critical or supportive of certain opinions or causes? Explain why or why not.

  2. Have students watch a podcast clip, then have them describe a painting inside the timeline that exhibits some of the features mentioned. Do not use a painting that has already been used within the video. If no other paintings exhibit the features, have the student explain why they think this is so.

  3. Using artistic effects laid out in the podcasts and exemplified in the timeline paintings (ie, auroras, stormy landscapes), have students create their own Civil War painting. In a paragraph have them describe what techniques they used or what they would use (if materials are not accessible). Also describe any symbolism used in the picture and why they chose to create it.

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