"The Confederate Sketches of Adalbert Volck" Drawings of a Civil War- Era Political Cartoonist Are Now on Display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery through Jan. 21

By Myers, Chuck | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), May 17, 2012 | Go to article overview

"The Confederate Sketches of Adalbert Volck" Drawings of a Civil War- Era Political Cartoonist Are Now on Display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery through Jan. 21


Myers, Chuck, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


WASHINGTON --

Adalbert Volck lead a most interesting life.

A trained dentist, Volck plied his profession in Baltimore during the mid-19th century.

But the good dentist also had some intriguing sidelines.

As a Southern loyalist during the Civil War, he operated a safe house for rebel soldiers and agents, smuggled medical supplies to the South, and even served as a personal courier for Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Above all though, he loved to skewer President Abraham Lincoln in his artwork.

Volck's strong passion for the South and enmity toward all things Yankee come into sharp focus with a rare exhibition of his drawings at the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery.

"The Confederate Sketches of Adalbert Volck" features 20 etchings and lithographs selected by Portrait Gallery Historian James Barber, and drawn from the Portrait Gallery's collection.

Born in Bavaria, Germany, on April 14, 1828, Volck emigrated to the United States in 1848 after he sided with revolutionaries during a failed revolt. He eventually settled in Baltimore and enrolled in the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, where he earned his D.D.S. in 1852.

Volck sympathized with the Confederacy after Civil War erupted in 1861. A talented artist as well as proficient dentist, he brought his creative skills to bear for the Southern war effort.

Upset by how Northern illustrators derided the South in print, Volck launched a clandestine artistic counterattack, producing works for a limited number of subscribers under the alias "V. Blada."

Volck chronicled several aspects of the rebel cause in his drawings.

But it was Lincoln who drew his particular attention and ire.

Volck instilled his derisive interpretation of "The Emancipation Proclamation" (1864) with deft symbolism. In the lithograph, Lincoln sits amid satanic motifs, including a small devil, drafting the document that freed slaves in the rebellious Southern states. His left foot rests upon a volume of the Constitution. On the nearby wall hang pictures of abolitionist John Brown, and one of wanton violence born from a slave uprising on Santo Domingo in the 1790s.

An adjacent etching, "The Knights of the Rueful Countenance" (1861), renders Lincoln in the guise of Don Quixote, the errant knight of Miguel de Cervantes' celebrated novel. …

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