One of the most important events in American history is commemorated in the exhibition A Nation Divided: The American Civil War Depicted by Currier & Ives, on view from June 30 through December 31, 2006, at the Museum of Fine Arts.
More than three million Americans fought in the Civil War and more than 600,000 men lost their lives. The war was the first military conflict to be consistently documented. While photographers such as Matthew Brady used the camera to bring battle scenes to the public, other artists traveled with military brigades and made sketches to produce prints for mass dissemination. As the demand for news of the war grew, images of politicians, soldiers, battles and ships of war became very popular. Among the many publishers of Civil War scenes was the lithography firm of Currier & Ives, which produced 200 images of the conflict. In fact, demand for the prints became so great that the firm developed coloring stencils to speed up production and distribution of the images. Most of the prints depicted famous battles and heroic soldiers. Currier & Ives occasionally altered the progress of a battle to favor the North, where most of their customers were located. Among the images in this exhibition are graphic scenes of the Battle of Bull Run and the bombardment of Island "Number Ten" in the Mississippi River. The exhibit also includes portraits of President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant. A Nation Divided is on view in the Museum's Lenore B. and Sidney A. Alpert Currier & Ives Gallery, the country's only exhibit gallery devoted to the work of Currier & Ives. The gallery features changing, thematic exhibits from the Museum's collection of 787 Currier & Ives prints.