Francis Bicknell Carpenter, “The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln,” 1864, oil on canvas, 9 x 15 feet, U.S. Capitol Building

In this occasional series, Fine Art Today delves into the world of portraiture, highlighting historical and contemporary examples of superb quality and skill. This week we look at one artist’s attempt to make an accurate group portrait even more so. How?

Via Troika Gallery in Easton, Maryland:

After spending the summer on a sojourn honoring art from the Civil War, Anna Ella Carroll is coming home to celebrate her birthday, which is August 29. Anna Ella Carroll is the centerpiece of a painting created by renowned portrait artist Laura Era (after F.B. Carpenter). After being exhibited at the Carroll County Arts Center in Westminster for most of the summer (Carroll County is named after Anna Ella Carroll’s family), the painting has recently returned to the Eastern Shore. You can see the painting and give birthday wishes to Anna Ella Carroll at Troika Gallery in downtown Easton.

The Carroll County Arts Council invited artists to submit work for a summer exhibit that ran from June 13-August 16, 2013, in observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The works of art were viewed by thousands of people who were in the area to see re-enactments of the Battles of Gettysburg and Pickett’s Charge.

Born August 29, 1815, in Somerset County, Anna Ella Carroll later lived in Dorchester County. Carroll was an intriguing and atypical 19th century woman who emerged from the male-dominated realm of war, politics, and diplomacy. As a key military strategist, Presidential advisor, and “unofficial” member of Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet, Carroll was probably the most powerful woman in America during the Civil War. Yet, her accomplishments are virtually unknown. When Carroll died in 1894, deprived of honor, title, pension, and acknowledgement, her life story was already considered a model for the Women’s Suffrage Movement. A modern biographer described Carroll as “hands down, the most important political woman of the 19th century.”

Laura Era, “The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln,” 2016-17, oil on canvas. Depicted in the painting (left to right) are Cabinet members Edwin M. Stanton, Salmon P. Chase, President Abraham Lincoln, Gideon Welles, Caleb B. Smith, William H. Seward (seated), Montgomery Blair, Anna Ella Carroll (reincarnated), and Edward Bates.

Carroll was a war spy, politician, Unionist writer, pamphleteer, author and legal expert. She is credited with helping to prevent Maryland’s secession from the Union. President Lincoln sent her, accompanied by an army officer, to observe and report on the War on the western front. Her reports resulted in major military strategies that eventually doomed the Confederacy and ended the intervention of the European nations on the behalf of the South.

Carroll is credited with changing the direction of the Civil War by devising the crucial Tennessee River Plan. Fearing that Union generals and soldiers would not follow a plan devised by a woman civilian, Lincoln and his Cabinet kept Carroll’s authorship a secret. Carroll also presented legal arguments and opinions as to why Lincoln could issue the Emancipation Proclamation and detailed his war powers authority.

Evidence exists that Lincoln had intended to honor Carroll after the war with a title and pension equal to that of a Major General. However, after Lincoln was assassinated, Carroll’s male counterparts, assisted by General Grant himself, conspired to take credit for her successes and totally erase her from history.

In 2010, Era was commissioned to paint a stylized version of Francis Bicknell Carpenter’s famous 1864 painting, “The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln.” Carpenter’s painting hangs over the west staircase in the Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol. It prominently depicts an empty chair draped with a red shawl, along with maps and notes similar to those Carroll carried. Many historians feel it was Carpenter’s way of acknowledging Carroll as the unrecognized member of the Cabinet.

Era painstakingly recreated the painting, placing Anna in her rightful chair with Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet. The new painting with the addition of Miss Carroll is titled “Maryland’s Version of First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Susan Williamson from the Carroll County Arts Council says, “Visitors to the exhibit were intrigued and enlightened by Anna’s story and the masterful recreation of the painting.”

A separate portrait of Abraham Lincoln titled “My Favorite President,” also by Laura Era, created a full complement of these historical figures during this critical time in American history.

Era says, “I am pleased that ‘Anna and the boys’ have returned to my Easton gallery, but the ultimate goal is to have the painting hang in a museum or public building where as many people as possible can view it and learn about the life and significance of Anna Ella Carroll.”

This historic painting is currently displayed at Troika Gallery. For information about prints or to see step-by-step progress photographs of the painting being made, visit Anna Ella Caroll.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster
Andrew Webster is the Editor of Fine Art Today and works as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.

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