RARE WARTIME ISSUE VOLCK ETCHING OF STONEWALL JACKSON TAKEN FROM A LIFE SKETCH 1862

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Item Code: 846-220

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This superb portrait of Stonewall Jackson is a scarce wartime issue etching of Stonewall Jackson produced in Baltimore by Adalbert Volck, based on a sketch he made of Jackson in Fall 1862. According to Volck, "the drawing from which this hasty etching was made is from life. It was on one of my blockade-running trips, not long after the second battle of Bull Run. I had crossed the Potomac above Ball's Bluff, and carrying important papers, was making my way across the country to get to a certain place, the name of which I have forgotten, but where I knew a person who would push me forward. I came quite unexpectedly upon a camp, and not meeting the pickets, I walked right through it. On the other side of the huts and shelters I saw some officers talking together, among them Jackson. As I seemed unobserved I pulled out my sketch book and made what can hardly be pronounced a striking likeness of the General. I was almost done with it when one of the officers pointed me out, and General Jackson looked around at me with a pleasant smile and turned away. I had, however, to show what I had done to some offier [sic] and also prove to be a friend. I was sent on on horseback with a guide. An etching was made immediately after my return, some three or four days afterward, one or two prints taken, and for some reason, now forgotten, probably during one of my frequent arrests the plate was mislaid.

According to Volck, he only found the plate again after he saw the etching reproduced in a copy of Century Magazine, likely the 1885 issue containing D.H. Hill’s reminiscences of Gaines Mill. Brown University places his rediscovery of the plate shortly before 1898, when it was used to strike others for sale in the Great Confederate Bazaar in Baltimore. According to Volck, it was then again misplaced. This example, however, is one of the very few wartime strikes, as proven by a period pencil inscription on the reverse reading: “Stonewall Jackson / from life/ presented by / J. Fenner Lee Esq / of Baltimore/ Aug. 15, 1864” and at bottom “Genl/ Jackson.”

James Fenner Lee (1843-1898) was a prominent Baltimore attorney, politician, and a U.S. State Department diplomat. His social standing likely brought him into direct contact during the war with Volck. Some cardstock adhering to the upper reverse indicates it was mounted on mat, album page, or scrapbook at some point. The sheet measures 2 5/8 by 4 inches. There are small foxing spots, but the condition is excellent and the detail is fine, as might be expected from such an early imprint.

Volck (1828-1912) was a German refugee from the failed revolution of 1848. He had a background in chemistry and eventually joined with a Boston dentist in developing a method of using porcelain to fill cavities. In 1851 he taught chemistry at the Baltimore School of Dental Surgery, took a degree there in 1852 as a doctor of dental surgery, and opened a successful practice in the city. He seems to have studied art while in Germany and also at the Maryland Institute College of Art, along with his brother Frederick, who took up sculpture and worked in Virginia during the war. In Baltimore Volcke was member of the Allston Association, which promoted culture and the arts, and was decidedly pro-Southern in outlook, being shut down by the military authorities in Baltimore in 1863 for the duration of the war. Both Volck brothers shared those sympathies and Adalbert’s were on display from at least July 1861, when he illustrated an anti-Lincoln flyer. His first substantial production was a series of twelve etchings satirizing Ben Butler, followed by a series of ten “Sketches of the Civil War in North America” and an 1864 series of twenty “War Studies,” issued as lithographs. These last two series were produced under a pseudonym. A third series was advertised, but never produced.

Volck apparently produced some variations of plates, but his production did not exceed 200 copies of each. He is often regarded as the southern equivalent of Thomas Nast, though with Baltimore under Union military control Volck had less circulation. He did, however, have more bite, progressing from satirical portrayals of figures like Butler to avowedly political, partisan, and pro-Southern charicatures and scenes that contrasted devout southern Christian chivalry with northern degenerate mobs and brutalities, sometimes portraying Lincoln and emancipation in decidedly Satanic terms, being equally over-the-top in his praise and blame. Volcke thus played a part in the propaganda war by keeping up pro-southern morale and outrage in Baltimore and Maryland, which contributed to the southern cause in men and materiel. He seems to have found his greatest audience, however, in the postwar years when reissue of his work struck a chord in the lore of the Lost Cause and the hagiography of Lee and Jackson, producing as well portraits of Lee in his college president’s study and in contemplation at Jackson’s grave, etc.

Uncertainty of the value of his wartime contribution to the cause may have led Volcke to exaggerate his service as secret courier, Confederate agent, object of  frequent arrest, etc. He himself related that General Dix had questioned him about his Butler portfolio, but was so amused at his satire of a politically appointed general that he merely ordered him to desist. But, he may well have participated in smuggling medical supplies and some intelligence into Viriginia, which he refers to as “blockade running,” and there is no reason to doubt the circumstances of making the original sketch of Jackson.

Not only is the etching one of a very limited wartime production, and from a life drawing, it is one of Volck’s few neutral presentations, not overtly political or partisan, and a counterpoint to his other depiction of Jackson, leading a prayer service in camp and looking very much like an Old Testament prophet. In this view, Jackson is unarmed, wearing tall boots and spurs, but with his coat open and hat held behind him. He seems to have just been surveying the landscape that seems to fall away behind him and stretch into the distance. A cannonball at his feet reminds the viewer of the war, however, and the vast countryside behind him may be significant for a general famous for his secret and long marches over long distances. He is the master of what he surveys, but Volck’s portrait suggests thoughtfulness even more.  [sr]

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