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This is War! The Pain, Power, and Paradox of Images

October 5 to April 4, 2008

Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art and Print Study Center


If "war is the father of all things," as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus lamented many centuries ago, then perhaps art is the mother. War continues to be a perennial subject in all of the arts, often symbolizing mortality and struggle and illustrating the triumphs and degradation of humanity. Our exhibition comes at a time when many museums are presenting war imagery in their galleries, from historical explorations to contemporary artists contending with the horrors of current wars. Heraclitus' statement seem to ring ever more true in our own disquieting times.

"This is War!" features works on paper selected from the collection of the Harnett Print Study Center. The prints, drawings, and photographs focus on war over many centuries and explore issues of war and peace as seen through the graphic arts, from the glory, heroism, and patriotism of war to its brutality, pity, and shame. Never has an exhibition been so difficult to contain, one battle leading to another, one war easily leading to another, one artist's powerful war imagery leading to other artists and their attempts to deal with the all-powerful "Mars His Idiot," the hideous god of war in Kerr Eby's symbolic print. The wars and battles are hard to quantify, the artists included range from the well-known to the unknown, the themes overlap, showing valor and patriotism, pity and ugliness, collateral damage of the innocent, and even satire and humor.

The extreme pain, power, and paradox of the images occur in the responses of artists to the wars that shaped their own lives and societies, and influence our lives and world today. What an enigma that the basest impulses of humanity can spark masterpieces and the highest creativity in visual artists! Highlights include the seminal war images of Callot (the complete set of his Miseries of War) and Goya, images of wars fought long ago (the Trojan War), America's Civil War, both World Wars, and today's wars. Photography is represented with grisly stereograph images of World War I and the destruction of World War II in vernacular snapshots and Gerhard Richter's reuse of an aerial reconnaissance image of the bombing of a bridge. The exhibition can only be incomplete, but the impact of the images strike home in intensity and intent, and in beauty. It looks at war and its aftermath in its many visual and emotional manifestations, from the heroic and uplifting to the atrocious and despicable.

Organized by the University of Richmond Museums, the exhibition was curated by Richard Waller, Executive Director, University Museums, with assistance from Katie Der, '11, business administration and studio art double major, University of Richmond, and 2008 Harnett Summer Research Fellow. Special thanks goes to our perceptive "silent" curator, James Goodfriend, an extraordinarily knowledgeable print scholar and dealer. Not only has he contributed the essay in this brochure, he has over the past several years provided guidance and assurances along the way in developing the very concepts and difficult parameters of this timely project.

The exhibition is made possible in part with funds from the Louis S. Booth Arts Fund and the support of the University's Cultural Affair Committee. It is part of the University's yearlong interdisciplinary focus, "Art & War," with events and programs scheduled throughout the 2008-2009 academic year and coordinated by the Modlin Center for the Arts. For more information, go to

Richard Waller
Executive Director
University of Richmond Museums

Publication Date



University of Richmond Museums


Richmond, VA


University of Richmond Museums, art of war, This is War, Disasters of War, Goya, Kerr Eby, Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art and Print Study Center, war


Art and Design | Fine Arts

This is War! The Pain, Power, and Paradox of Images