Published: August 31, 2004
Beginning September 11 and continuing through November 21, the Brandywine River Museum will present “Revere’s Ride and Longfellow’s Legend.” This exhibition examines a variety of artistic depictions of Paul Revere, a legendary symbol of American heroism and patriotism. It includes works by such well-known artists as Leonard Everett Fisher, William Robinson Leigh, Charles Santore, Harold Von Schmidt, Lynd Ward and N.C. Wyeth.
On the evening of April 18, 1775, Dr Joseph Warren commissioned Paul Revere and William Dawes to travel from Boston to Concord to warn patriot leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock that British troops planned to arrest them and to destroy a cache of munitions. Revere and Dawes were stopped by the British in Lexington, but a third rider, Dr Samuel Prescott, whom they met along the way, managed to reach Concord with the warning.
Eighty-five years later, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” singled out Revere as the catalyst for the American Revolution and brought national attention to the event. He recreated Revere as a solitary hero who waited alone for a lantern signal from Old North Church, rowed across the Charles River, and shouted his warning throughout the countryside from Charlestown to Concord.
“Paul Revere’s Ride” remains among Longfellow’s best-known works. Perhaps because the poem is frequently read and discussed in schools in an historical context, many Americans believe that the poem is truthful account of event. Historians have long endeavored to correct this general perception and many narratives have sought to present a broader, more accurate picture of Revere.
Works created by artists and illustrators have played a significant role in the popular perception of Revere and his part in the American Revolution. Many images capture the eloquence and symbolic nature of Longfellow’s poem. Illustrations published in the 1870s in Harper’s Weekly and Harper’s Magazine dramatize Revere as a princely figure whose message elicits indignation toward and resistance to British rule.
Late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century works, such as those by N.C. Wyeth, Howard Smith and William Robinson Leigh, show Revere as an average man whose noble conscience drives him to react with courage and patriotism. Thomas Edison’s very early silent motion picture, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, staunchly honors Longfellow’s version of the man. Images created by later artists Leonard Everett Fisher and Charles Santore depict idealized views of Revere. Modern cartoons both celebrate and lampoon Revere. Postcards, sheet music and advertising materials capitalize on Revere’s popularity.
Also in the exhibition are examples of Revere’s work in silver, his engravings satirizing British control and documents that support his work as a courier and American patriot.
Whether politically inspired or based on fact, the images presented in “Revere’s Ride and Longfellow’s Legend” help viewers explore Revere’s essential role in shaping American history and patriotism. The exhibition is an important exploration of much American illustration and its motives. This exhibition will travel to the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Mass., January 29-June 26.
Located on US Route 1 in Chadds Ford, the museum is open daily, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. For information, 610-388-2700 or www.brandywinemuseum.org.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm