Edouard Manet’s first known seascape is an imaginative depiction of the American Civil War naval battle between the Union cruiser USS Kearsarge and the Confederate raider CSS Alabama. The painting commemorates the Battle of Cherbourg fought off the coast of France on June 19th, 1864. The work shows a panorama of the fight with billowing smoke taking center stage and Manet’s idealized versions of both vessels and their crews in action.
Manet was able to capture many details such as blue uniforms of Union sailors, roiling waves and whitecaps, along with hues from gunpowder explosions in an impressionistic way, reflecting his own techniques from paintings such as A Bar at The Folies-Bergeres, completed in 1881-1882. The composition is dynamic yet simple which adds to its power; viewers can sense impending violence and destruction. In this work, Manet was able to bring the war scene to life by using vivid colors and detailed figures who all seem to be grasping for survival in what can only be described as a chaotic state.
Manet’s Battle Of The Kearsarge And The Alabama captures a state of chaos while paying tribute to two famous ships involved in one of the most famous naval battles during American Civil War. This painting shows evidence that innovative methods such as abstract compositions served Manet well in creating compelling artwork throughout his career, culminating with later works such as 1881-1882’s A Bar At The Folies-Bergeres revealing his talent for depicting a range of scenes made timeless by their beauty and artistry.