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Newly Acquired Paintings Unveiled at the USS Constitution Museum

Local Children Participate in Ceremony on May 13 to Celebrate One of the Most Important Acquisitions Ever Made by the USS Constitution Museum

Charlestown, MA – May 13, 2008 – On May 13, 2008, The USS Constitution Museum will unveil to the public its newest acquisition; a series of four paintings of the battle between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812, painted by Salem artist George Ropes, Jr. and dated 1813. They are among the earliest images of this seminal battle and one of the Museum's most significant acquisitions ever. This is the moment Constitution earns her nickname Old Ironsides and becomes the important national symbol that endures today. Paintings of this type were akin to photographs or newspaper accounts of the day.

The paintings were in storage for many years at the Woburn Public Library. Because the paintings have no local Woburn connection, the Trustees of the Library made the decision to deaccession them to help fund an expansion of the Library's historic structure. The Museum quickly acted to purchase them at a Sotheby's auction when they discovered they were available.

"We are asking children to participate in this significant event for the Museum in order to ensure that future generations understand the importance of the Ship and its role in our nation's history," said Burt Logan, President of the Museum. "Preservation and display of these paintings is critical in keeping this important moment in American history alive for generations to come. To ensure that the story of this national treasure is indeed accessible to all, admission to the Museum is always free of charge," he continued.

Children participating in the actual unveiling of the paintings include: Sam Fulweiler of Cambridge, who is a descendent of Isaac Hull, Captain of USS Constitution during the War of 1812; Liam Bullard of Fall River, whose father is the current Ship's Captain; Jared Kiihne of Concord, whose father is the Museum's Director of Exhibits; Jaye Lindsay Morgan of Woburn, whose grandmother is a Trustee at the Woburn Public Library; Martha Rand of Ipswich, whose mother is the Museum's Executive Vice President; Benjamin Makishima of Milton, whose family are friends of the Museum; Libin Huang of Charlestown, who is a student at Harvard Kent School, the nearest school to the Museum; and Isis Shrader of Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, whose father is an enlisted sailor on board USS Constitution. Boston Latin School 8th grade student, Jillian Baker, will be reading an essay about the importance of the preservation of Constitution, written by a student in 1925. Youngsters from the Charlestown's Clarence R. Edwards Middle School participating in the Citizen Schools Program will perform a brief play about the battle.

The paintings will become the Museum's signature images and will be showcased in a free exhibit from May 14-November 14, 2008. The exhibit, Old Ironsides in War and Peace, chronicles the 200 plus year history of USS Constitution, from her building and launching, to present day. After November 14, they will be rotated on and off display, used as aids in educational programs, and reproduced on items in the Museum giftshop for years to come. The Museum plans to make them part of a hands-on, minds-on exhibit for families called Sailor Speak: Life Aboard USS Constitution in 1812 opening next spring.

More About the Paintings

The Ropes' paintings include images of sailors climbing aloft to ready the Ship for battle and the dramatic destruction of the defeated British ship. At age 13, Ropes became a student of Michele Felice Cornè, the premiere American maritime artist of the day. Ropes was one of nine children of ship master, George Ropes. George Ropes, Jr., a deaf mute, supported his family after his father's death through his painting. Although Ropes was not at the battle he paints with the detail of someone who was. Ropes had access to firsthand accounts of the battle through his friend and mentor, Cornè, who was commissioned to depict the battle by the ship's captain, Isaac Hull, and through newspaper articles. While two of Ropes' paintings are similar to Cornè's own images of the battle, two are unique views.

The Museum frequently reproduces the four images of USS Constitution vs. HMS Guerriere painted by Cornè because they are as close to an eyewitness view as one could get. Cornè painted the Guerriere series twice and these two sets reside in the collections of the US Naval Academy Museum and the New Haven Colony Historical Society. These images in public collections will not be sold. This may have been the Museum's only chance to acquire such an iconic set of images of Constitution's most famous battle. While the Museum has many derivative prints and later paintings of the Constitution and Guerriere battle, the Museum has only one early painting of the battle. The Ropes acquisition remedies that need.

About the USS Constitution Museum

The USS Constitution Museum serves as the memory and educational voice of Old Ironsides. Family-friendly, hands-on exhibits share the stories of USS Constitution and those who shaped her history. The Museum, located adjacent to USS Constitution in the historic Charlestown Navy Yard, is open seven days a week, hours vary depending on season. There is no charge for admission, but donations are welcome.

Four paintings by George Ropes, Jr. depicting U.S. Frigate Constitution's battle with H.M. Frigate Guerriere on August 19, 1812.
Gouache, 1813
Museum Purchase, Commodores Fund [2094.1-4]
Courtesy USS Constitution Museum