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The Story of Virginia

The Memorial Military Murals by Charles Hoffbauer

The Cavalry (Autumn) Mural

Beautiful and inspiring, the Memorial Military Murals were commissioned by the Confederate Memorial Association and painted by French artist Charles Hoffbauer between 1913 and 1920. For nearly a century, they were referred to as "The Four Seasons of the Confederacy," but recent research suggests that the artist intended each to be a tribute to the major branches of Confederate military service. 

Hoffbauer left in the middle of his work to fight for his native France in World War I. When he returned, a weary soldier who now knew the horrors of the trench, he altered his plans for the murals to depict the more violent, bloody reality of war.

With the exception of the cycloramas at Gettysburg and Grant Park in Atlanta, there are few large-scale pieces of Civil War artwork on public view. Their scale alone would make them important pieces, but their content and context are even more important.

In 2011, the Virginia Historical Society began conservation work on the Memorial Military Murals with funding received from Save America's Treasures, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Important cleaning and conservation work began in June 2011 and was completed in June 2014. Additional work to renovate the gallery space began in June 2014 and was completed in May 2015.  

Cleo Mullins of Richmond Conservation Studio served as chief conservator on the project. Mullins graduated from Cooperstown Graduate Programs, State University of New York at Oneonta, Program of the Conservation of Historical and Artistic Works in 1974. She holds a Certificate of Advanced Study in addition to her masters from Cooperstown. She served as Intern/Fellow in the conservation laboratory of the National Museum of American Art (then the National Collection of Fine Arts) at the Smithsonian in 1973–1974.

Visit the Virginia Museum of History & Culture to view the splendor of these murals in person.


More about Hoffbauer and his murals

Charles Hoffbauer was born in Paris in 1875. He studied under the most famous French artists of the day and achieved widespread recognition for his work, even before his commission from the Confederate Memorial Association. The murals at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture are considered his crowning achievements. In 1941, he escaped occupied France and became an American citizen. He settled first in California, where he worked as an animator for Walt Disney Studios, and then moved to Massachusetts, where he remained until his death in 1957.

A graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Hoffbauer was thoroughly versed in French academic procedures of painting large-scale themes of grandeur and historical importance. In preparing the Memorial Military Murals, he used a full repertoire of those techniques.

Unable to view events fifty years in the past, Hoffbauer by necessity invented the scenes of his murals. His production of imagery was a gradual process. One means by which the artist developed initial ideas of composition was the small ink and watercolor sketch.

No less effective a device in the first stages of development were clay and wood models, which allowed Hoffbauer to invent and refine compositions.

Literally dozens of very small ink and pencil sketches (arranged on matboard by the artist) were a means to develop precise details of imagery. The small sketches were tested on a large scale in some sixty crayon and pastel drawings.

Most of the pastels, like most of the small drawings, are rendered on grids, which routinely were used as a means to enlarge and transfer figures from a small to a large scale. In that process, the detail in each small square of a grid is repeated in the corresponding square of a larger grid.

Though only a means to the end of the finished product of the mural cycle, Hoffbauer's clay models are stunning works of sculpture. Their vigorous and tactile surfaces, animated with light and shadow, are the work of a sensitive artist responsive to his medium in the manner of his famous French and American contemporaries Auguste Rodin and Frederic Remington. The models allowed Hoffbauer to invent and refine compositions. By arranging and rearranging the models, and by looking at these from the low perspective of ground level, the painter could select from seemingly infinite possibilities the most compelling viewpoint from which to stage a scene.

Hoffbauer's models, sketches, and photographs are in the collections of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

For more insights into Hoffbauer's life, read our blog article, "The Man Behind the Murals."

 

Charles Hoffbauer (2003.298.23.A) Enter Fullscreen More information
Charles Hoffbauer (2003.298.23.A)
French artist Charles Hoffbauer created the Memorial Military Murals between 1913 and 1920.
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Infantry (Spring) Mural
Part of "The Four Seasons of the Confederacy" Mural Series, the Spring Mural depicts Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson reviewing his troops in the Shenandoah Valley. This first "season" celebrates the early military successes of the Confederacy. Hoffbauer devised an inordinate number of studies for it—close to two hundred—because it was one of the initial scenes he developed and because Frederick Sievers's newly-sculpted Jackson monument, erected in 1919 only blocks away, received extensive press coverage at the time. The painter was determined to devise an image of equal distinction. He conceived at least five major stages as he developed the mural, finally settling on placement of the mounted general at the right. Many of the sketches for this mural were drawn with the aid of clay models, a process recorded in the artist's documentary photographs. The panel on the left of the Spring Mural depicts the engagement between the Confederate ironclad Virginia (formerly Merrimac) and the federal ships Cumberland and Congress. The panel on the right shows the arrival of a hospital train. The doctor to the far right, with gray hat, is a portrait of the sculptor Edward Virginius Valentine, one-time president of the Virginia Historical Society.
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Commanders (Summer) Mural
Part of "The Four Seasons of the Confederacy" Mural Series. Although no such meeting of Confederate commanders ever took place as Hoffbauer portrays in the Summer Mural, the artist succeeded in creating a striking group portrait in which every likeness bears the stamp of authenticity. The artist's imaginary grouping of more than a dozen of the most illustrious southern commanders, men never all together in the field, was conceived as appropriate imagery to mark the middle years of the war, when the Confederacy was at its greatest strength. Although the second "season," this apparently was the third mural painted, the one Hoffbauer conceived after the completion of his laboriously studied Winter and Spring scenes. Its development was reached through four stages and far fewer studies—small pencil sketches that fill only twenty of the matboards he grouped them on, and half that number of pastels. A few clay models were used. The final stages saw the inclusion of more and more officers, the decision of an advisory committee of the Confederate Memorial Association.
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Cavalry (Autumn) Mural
Part of "The Four Seasons of the Confederacy" Mural Series. James Ewell Brown Stuart is portrayed in the Autumn Mural leading his cavalrymen on a foray through the Virginia woods. Hoffbauer's third "season," and the last mural he painted, revives the later period of the war, when the Confederacy suffered major defeats but enjoyed as well the valor of such figures as J.E.B. Stuart. Exhausted by his previous labors that yielded several hundred preliminary drawings and harried by Confederate veterans anxious for a finished product to view after a half century of waiting, Hoffbauer evidently produced this mural with speed. Presumably for that reason it has particular freshness and vigor. The artist worked first from clay models alone, highly animated sculptures that were the best he made. Major figures were refined by means of five large pastels. No pencil studies were prepared. Flanked on the left is a panel showing John S. Mosby on a midnight raid, and on the right the panel, "The Coast Artillery, Confederate Marines." Many people are surprised to learn that there were Confederate marines, probably because they were so few in number. Some estimates say there were only 600 men in the Confederate Marine Corps at any one time and only 1,200 men in total.
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Artillery (Winter) Mural
Part of "The Four Seasons of the Confederacy" Mural Series. The Winter Mural depicts the misery of an artillery battery in retreat through the snow, its equipment shattered, its men on the verge of exhaustion. It is thought that this panel, in particular, reflects Hoffbauer's personal war experiences. The horrific battle scene and the grim image of fallen men and horses are especially poignant when viewed as a gallery experience. In all, more than a million and a half horses and mules were killed during the Civil War, and of course the toll on human life was staggering.
Detail of Edward Virginius Valentine from the Hospital Train Mural Enter Fullscreen More information
Detail of Edward Virginius Valentine from the Hospital Train Mural
The model for the man shown wearing a hat was well-known Richmond sculptor Edward Virginius Valentine, one-time president of the Virginia Historical Society.
An early version of the Artillery (Winter) mural Enter Fullscreen More information
An early version of the Artillery (Winter) mural
In an early and unfinished version of the Artillery (Winter) Mural, Hoffbauer included the fallen Confederate soldier at the lower-left. This same soldier eventually appeared in the lower-left corner of the Cavalry mural, but in a Union uniform.
Detail of the Artillery (Winter) Mural Enter Fullscreen More information
Detail of the Artillery (Winter) Mural
Charles Hoffbauer would have been familiar with the struggles of horses to pull artillery pieces through snow and mud after his experience on the Western Front during World War I. He liked used his experience as inspiration for the Artillery (Winter) Mural.
Charles Hoffbauer (2003.298.23.A)
Charles Hoffbauer (2003.298.23.A)
Infantry (Spring) Mural
Commanders (Summer) Mural
Cavalry (Autumn) Mural
Artillery (Winter) Mural
Detail of Edward Virginius Valentine from the Hospital Train Mural
Detail of Edward Virginius Valentine from
An early version of the Artillery (Winter) mural
An early version of the Artillery (Winter)
Detail of the Artillery (Winter) Mural
Detail of the Artillery (Winter) Mural

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Please note that our galleries, museum shop, and research library will be closed on Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 22, 2018).

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