The Battle of the USS “Kearsarge” and the CSS “Alabama”
Édouard Manet (1832-1883)
1864 / Oil on canvas / 54 1/4”x50 3/4” / Philadelphia Museum of Art
During the American Civil War, the United States warship Kearsarge made headlines after sinking the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of France. Manet did not witness firsthand the widely-covered event but devoted two paintings to the subject: a scene of the naval battle (Philadelphia Museum of Art) and [The “Kearsarge” at Boulogne, 1864, The Met], prompted by his subsequent visit to the victorious ship at anchor near Boulogne. They were his first depictions of a current event.
Although he did not witness the historic battle, Manet made a painting of it partly as an attempt to regain the respect of his colleagues after having been ridiculed for his works in the 1864 Salon. Manet’s picture of the naval engagement and his portrait of the victorious Kearsarge belong to a group of his seascapes of Boulogne whose unorthodox perspective and composition would profoundly influence the course of French painting.