genre; Civil War
For soldiers, life during wartime involved long, dull periods of inactivity punctuated by bursts of dangerous action. Much of Winslow Homer’s art from the Civil War captures these lulls, which the enlisted filled with diverse pastimes. This nighttime scene of an unsheltered encampment features a large gathering of Union soldiers enjoying a performance of dance and music provided by two escaped slaves. Some soldiers appear to reflect pensively on their disconcerting circumstances, while two men in the lower right corner relax by playing cards. The elaborate, North African-inspired uniforms worn by several of the soldiers indicate membership among the Zouaves, a special unit of the armed forces known for their great bravery and skill. While Homer generally depicted African Americans sympathetically, his portrayal of the dancer and the fiddle player suggests racist caricature derived from nineteenth-century minstrelsy.
figures; fires; light; soldiers
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