If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:3:30

History and deception: Kenseth Armstead’s Surrender Yorktown 1781

Video transcript

[Music] I'm in the Newark Museum with kenseth Armstead looking at surrender Yorktown 1781 this is not a painting it's a drawing and I see your hand all over it the vast majority of history paintings you can't see the brushstrokes so in my rendition of history you can see the hand of the artist but then what does it mean to take that genre to take history painting and to remake it in the 21st century to take its grand scale but to transform it completely this is pencil this is graphite the King of France at the time of the American Revolution had invested his ships and capital literal cash in our American Revolution and he wanted a memento of how it is that the American Revolution ended with the British defeated and this as a Frenchman made him extremely happy so he commissioned blarin Bart to make a painting called surrender Yorktown 1781 and what he did was sort of pieced together a fantasy of the British surrendering at Yorktown that would satisfy this one patron who needed a memento of his investment in the American Revolution the original painting by blarin Berg it hasn't it dancing slaves I doubt very seriously slaves were at the moment of the American Revolution dancing since they weren't being freed it hasn't it landed gentry and it has a landscape that's lush and beautiful which wouldn't actually be realistic after a battle had just concluded this is the idea of the New World from somebody who's a Fanta cyst about the new world they've never been the King of France has never been the painters never been blarin Berg makes a painting that will satisfy the patron but doesn't have that much to do with history there are two kinds of lies at work there's the lie of illusionism we're looking at a flat canvas or in this case a flat piece of paper and yet we have this vast landscape that stretches out before us but there's another lie which is the history which is the story that's being told and you've treated this in a completely unexpected way instead of trying to imagine what that battlefield looked like populated you were moved I started out looking at blaring Berg's work and I wanted to be honest about it and really work with it and as I started to compose it I'm like well that's fiction and that's fiction so so far we've mostly discussed what you've removed how you've stepped away from the illusionistic traditions of history painting and from their falsehoods but what you have created is this majestic empty space the aftermath of a terrible battle where hundreds of people died the first person to die in the American Revolution is a descendent of Africans and the war would not end without the participation of Africans specifically james Armistead Lafayette but also the 20% of Washington's troops and the French who allowed us the financing and the ships to keep Cornwallis cordoned off so he couldn't leave by ships so for my work allows an entry point to explore that all of the histories that we are given are needing work they're all incomplete when people look at this work in depth they'll see layer upon layer of mark-making making a history painting is it's not a passive act it's a proactive act you have to go and shape it you've given us a stage set you've given us an open space you've given us an arena that we can repopulate with a truer history [Music]