Famous Thomas Birch painting of Battle of Lake Erie in special Bicentennial exhibition at Toledo Museum of Art


Aug 13, 2013


Thomas Birch. Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie. Oil on canvas, 1814. Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Gift of Mrs.C.H.A.Esling.

Louis Bennett Chevalier (American, 1823–1889), Burial of the Officers Slain at the Battle of Lake Erie, oil on canvas, 1860? Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio

Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755–1828) and Jane Stuart (American, 1812-1888), Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Oil on wood panel, 1818–1828. Toledo Museum of Art. Purchased with funds from the Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in Memory of her Father, Maurice A. Scott, 1967.140

Map of Western District in Upper Canada (including parts of Ohio), or Western End of Lake Erie, ink and color on paper, 1813. William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie (1814–15), hand engraved by Alexander Lawson (1773–1846) after a painting by Thomas Birch. Image courtesy of the Clements Library, University of Michigan

Important paintings of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and his great naval victory during the War of 1812 are part of a Toledo Museum of Art exhibition that commemorates the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie.

Perry’s Victory: The Battle of Lake Erie, on view through Nov. 10 in Galleries 28 and 29, features paintings, prints, sculpture, artifacts, letters and music on loan and from the Museum’s permanent collection.

The free exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see the heroically scaled painting Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie (1814) by Thomas Birch so close to the actual battle site. The painting depicts a critical moment just before the British squadron surrenders to the victorious Perry (1785–1819) in the fall of 1813.

Another highlight is TMA’s own striking portrait Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1818–28) by American portrait painter Gilbert Stuart and his daughter Jane. It was the outcome of the dramatic battle that led to Perry becoming a national hero and joining a stream of famous Americans whose portraits Stuart painted, among them, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of films, presentations and other activities. A Perry’s Victory Party for Museum members is planned on the evening of Sept. 10, the actual 200th anniversary of the military battle.

Historians often describe the War of 1812 as the Second War of Independence: a reaction to the continuing British attacks on and seizures of American vessels and seamen, and the likely British role in encouraging Indians in the northwestern frontier to rebel against American expansion. Not only was the U.S. national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner, inspired by the war, but victory over Britain also confirmed the young nation’s sovereignty.

Perry’s Victory: The Battle of Lake Erie

Some of the most decisive events of the war on the frontier were the naval battles, as command of the Great Lakes was critical for success in the northwest. One of the most famous victories was achieved at the Battle of Lake Erie on Sept. 10, 1813, by the young Perry with the capture of a British fleet of six vessels, giving control of the lake and its important transportation routes to the United States.

The centennial of the victory was celebrated in 1913 with a major exhibition in the then recently completed Toledo Museum of Art building on Monroe Street. Portraits, battle scenes and historical objects were brought together to recognize the event. Yet as large as the exhibition was, a major painting depicting a turning point in the battle—Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie by Birch—was not in the show.

For the bicentennial exhibition, the Museum has secured the loan of the painting from the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

Sponsored in part by Taylor Cadillac, the exhibition is made possible through generous loans from the William L. Clements Library (Ann Arbor, Mich.), the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.), the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia), the Western Reserve Historical Society (Cleveland) and private collectors. Perry’s Victory is also made possible with the support of Museum members and through the Ohio Arts Council sustainability grant program with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Admission to the Museum and the exhibition is free. The Museum is open Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, Noon to 5 p.m.; closed Monday and major holidays. The Museum is located at 2445 Monroe Street at Scottwood Avenue, just west of the downtown business district and one block off I-75 with exit designations posted. For more information, visit http://www.toledomuseum.org or call 419-255-8000.

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