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The Last Civil War Veteran

Combining an improvisational working method with a return to narrative subject matter, Rivers provides an aesthetic bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. Among his favorite sources were “campy” history paintings and the mass media. A photograph of the last survivor of the Civil War in Life magazine (May 11, 1959) inspired a series of images exploring life, death, war, and heroism. Defining himself as both an artist and a political man, Rivers saw historical themes as a way of exposing hypocrisy and of illuminating contemporary issues—such as the Vietnam War. The fact that the man in the original photograph (Walters Williams) was revealed as a fraud also raises questions about truth in media, history, art, and politics. By using garish, unconventional colors, Rivers alters reality and challenges us to rethink our preconceptions.

Larry Rivers
American, 1923–2002
The Last Civil War Veteran
1970
Color silkscreen with collage on paper
Image/sheet: 29 x 19 13/16 in. (73.6 x 50.3 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. Saul Steinberg, 80.90.24

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