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The Lost Cause, 1868
Henry Mosler (1841-1920)

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Oil on canvas
36 x 48 inches
Original Frame
Signature Details: Henry Mosler/1868
Status: The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Henry Mosler’s oil painting “The Lost Cause” has a complex history, one that reflects the turmoil and uncertainty the United States faced as it searched for a way to recover from its greatest political and social cataclysm, the American Civil War. Many Southern citizens had pledged their allegiance to the revolutionary Confederate States of America.  Wealthy planters and slave-owners from Virginia to Texas joined the Confederate States Army in company with non-slaveholding farmers, landless shopkeepers, and laborers in commerce and industry.  Some of these men fought to preserve the political and social values of their Southern way of life; others fought because they witnessed their native states and communities under attack by Northerners.  

After four years of warfare the Confederacy suffered total defeat at the hands of the Union. The war brought the South immense losses of life and property and the destruction of their slavery-based society. The Union Army, composed of citizens of the northern states, recent European immigrants, and African Americans liberated from bondage, had won a complete victory. In the years after 1865 the Northern states decided the future course of the United States as a democracy grounded on commerce and industry, not as an agricultural republic with strict racial and class distinctions.  Southerners had to come to terms with their roles in this new nation that they had so bitterly resisted. How the two sections, formerly brothers and lately deadly enemies, would reunite into the single American nation they had once been was the great challenge that faced statesmen, writers, and artists after 1865.

One of the ways that Americans sought to heal the wounds of the Civil War was the creation of the phenomenon of the “Lost Cause,” a combination of historical perceptions and cultural mythology that has found expression in art, literature, and even politics since 1865.  Former Confederates and their descendants have found the Lost Cause a means both to explain the Civil War defeat to themselves and others and to salvage from it some measures of honor, self-respect, and veneration of an idealized Southern “way of life.”  Northerners of the Civil War generation---many of whom had been sympathetic to Southern values even as they fought to defeat the Confederacy---helped to create the Lost Cause.  

Intellectual and artistic features of the Lost Cause appealed to Civil War veterans and to following generations. Among those features were the romantic notions of a Confederate nation nobly defeated in defense of cherished ideals. This aspect of the Lost Cause linked the Southern struggle to other historical “lost causes” such as the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745 and the seventeenth-century English Civil Wars between the Cavaliers and Roundheads. The novels of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) and the South Carolinian William Gilmore Simms (1806-70) provided before and soon after the Civil War literary models of the ways in which such a “nobly vanquished” South might persevere. Their successors Thomas Nelson Page (1853-1922), Thomas Dixon (1864-1846), and Margaret Mitchell (1900-49) elaborated Lost Cause values in their popular novels about antebellum Southern life and culture.  

Historians did their part to find some measures of victory within the great defeat. Edwin A. Pollard’s Echoes from the South (1866), The Lost Cause; A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates and Lee and his Lieutenants: Comprising the Early Life, Public Services and Campaigns of General Robert E. Lee and his Companions in Arms, with a Record of their Campaigns and Heroic Deeds, both published in 1867, were representative of numerous works that defended the Southern rebellion on constitutional and political grounds. Biographers praised the aristocratic character and chivalric values of the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jefferson “Stonewall” Jackson, and Pierre G. T. Beauregard. They rescued these men, and by implication all Southern fighting men, from the shame of defeat by identifying them with such characters as the Arthurian Knights of the Round Table, the French Chevalier Bayard, and leaders of the Crusades into the Holy Lands.  

Painters and sculptors, too, reacted to the Civil War and the defeat of the South by creating works of art that gave visual representation to Lost Cause themes. Everett B.D. Julio’s nearly life-sized “The Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson” (1869) brought the techniques and conventions of Renaissance and Baroque Old Master artists to bear upon a poignant moment in Confederate history, the morning of May 2, 1863, when generals Lee and Jackson met for the last time on the eve of the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia. That painting and engravings of it made “The Last Meeting” an iconic image of the Lost Cause.  Few Southern households lacked depictions of generals Lee and Jackson, whether they were Currier and Ives lithographs, steel engravings made from photographs, or a copy of “The Last Meeting.” In fact, the homes of many history-minded Southerners still display these artworks.  

Moses Ezekiel (1844-1917), a native Virginian and Confederate veteran, was one of the most prolific sculptors in the United States. Many of his postwar commissions were to construct monuments to commemorate the war and the Lost Cause. His best-known work was the Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery (1914). That monument contained panels with thirty-two life-size figures that depicted idealized episodes in the history of the South and of the Confederacy. Minerva, the Roman goddess of war and wisdom, kept from falling a female emblem of the South. Another female figure, also representing the South, stands atop the thirty-two feet tall pedestal. African American housekeepers and body servants were also among the numerous figures. Ezekiel was so proud of the Monument that he requested to be buried at its base. Monuments to Southern womanhood, statues of Confederate generals, obelisks commemorating famous battles or the deeds of local regiments proliferated throughout the South.  Many of them, especially those by sculptors Edward V. Valentine, George Julian Zolnay, and Frederick W. Ruckstull were magnificent works of art as well as powerful repositories of Lost Cause memory.  

William Aiken Walker (1839-1921), a native South Carolinian and Confederate veteran, specialized in painting African Americans, mostly former slaves freed by the Civil War, as they engaged in farm work, kept house, and participated in religious and recreational activities. His considerable output of these domestic genre paintings offered visual representation of Lost Cause beliefs that blacks, before and after emancipation, were content with their lot in Southern society. Within the frames of Walker’s paintings, emancipation and Reconstruction---the postwar struggle to integrate former slaves and former Confederates into a new Southern culture---had done little to alter white superiority, the bedrock of Southern society.  Julio’s “Last Meeting” and other depictions of General Lee epitomized the military nostalgia of the Lost Cause. Walker’s paintings of the “sunny South” assured viewers that the old-time social relations of the Lost Cause were still ascendant.  

One of the most important artistic representations of the Civil War, Henry Mosler’s “The Lost Cause” depicted a bitter reality of the war that the artist and the man who commissioned the work, former Confederate Colonel Albert Seaton Berry (1836-1908) had witnessed firsthand: the desolation of farms, destruction or dispersal of families, and the collapse of men’s dreams of martial glory. “The Lost Cause” accomplished the important role of all fine art when it offered a powerful representation of universal truths grounded in the particular experiences of the war-torn South. The painting united the destruction of the subject’s humble farm with the devastation wrought upon the poor farmers caught up in all of the wars of European history. The political and social messages of “The Lost Cause” were made even more obvious when, sometime around 1869 or 1870, Mosler painted a companion piece, “Leaving for War.” That work depicted the veteran of “The Lost Cause” waving farewell to his family and his prosperous farmstead.  Within a few short years the soldier had returned to the desolate scene of “The Lost Cause.”  

Mosler’s original painting, “Leaving for War,” is presently unlocated but its existence is known because the work was chromolithographed circa 1870 and widely sold. A privately-owned undated oil study for “Leaving for War” is part of Mosler’s artistic legacy. That small painting was exhibited in the 1996 Hebrew Union College Skirball Museum exhibition, “Henry Mosler Rediscovered: A Nineteenth-Century American-Jewish Artist.”  Titled “American Landscape,” the undated study was attributed to Mosler and reproduced in the catalog that accompanied that major exhibition. The study depicts the distinctive split-rail fence, stone wall, and backdrop of rolling hills that are found in the “Leaving for War” chromolithograph 
The return to public notice during the 1990s of Mosler’s original 1868 version of “The Lost Cause” is an opportunity to reexamine the career of the artist, particularly with respect to his place in the art of the Civil War, and to appreciate the distinctive quality of his work. Henry Mosler was born June 6, 1841, in Troplowitz, Silesia, the son of Gustav and Sophie Mosler. The Moslers were Ashkenazi Jews, equally at home in the urban Hebrew and German cultures of central Europe. At the age of eight years Henry Mosler immigrated with his parents to the United States. In Silesia, Gustav Mosler had been a skilled lithographer and many of his American enterprises involved mechanical printing and technology. The family moved from New York City to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1851.  They had moved to Nashville and then back to Cincinnati by 1855. Young Henry took art lessons from local engravers and lithographers and developed considerable skill as a carver of wood blocks for printing. He persevered in his lessons and by the end of the 1850s demonstrated considerable talent in portraiture, landscape, and genre painting.  Few of his pre-Civil War works survive.  

Gustav Mosler joined the Diebold-Bahmann Safe Manufacturing Company in 1859 and soon owned the business. This enterprise flourished and by the time of his death he had become one of the largest safe manufacturers in the nation.  The Mosler Safe Company did business throughout the United States and through that connection in the 1880s Mosler secured the patronage of Hulbert Harrington Warner (1842-1913) of Rochester, New York.  

The young artist began formal artistic training at Cincinnati with James Henry Beard (1811-93), from whom he began to perfect his techniques of portraiture and genre painting. In 1860 Mosler established a studio in Cincinnati.  By the start of the Civil War in April 1861, his career as a professional artist was well underway. Perceiving that a wartime artist-correspondent might secure advantages through the publication of his works, Mosler composed a drawing of the spring 1861 reception at Cincinnati of Major Robert Anderson, the Union former commander of Fort Sumter, and sent it to Harper’s Weekly magazine with an offer of his services as correspondent. As a result of that initiative, Mosler was named a traveling correspondent for Harper’s. He thus joined a corps of distinguished artists and journalists who used their wartime experiences as springboards for greater accomplishments. Among the “Bohemian Brigade” of artists were Winslow Homer, Xanthus Smith, Alfred R. and William Waud, Thomas Nast, Theodore P. Davis, and many others. Journalists included James Gordon Bennett, William H. Russell, Henry Lewis Raymond, and Frank Leslie. The combined talents of these artists and journalists transformed Harper’s Weekly, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News, the Illustrated London News, and other print media into modern magazines.  Mosler was a Harper’s “special artist” from December 1861 to July 1863 and thirty-four of his signed drawings were published.  

The artist was assigned to the Union Army of Ohio and Kentucky, which was commanded at various times by General William T. Sherman, General Lew Wallace, the author of Quo Vadis, and General Don Carlos Buell. He published sketches of the Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862, and of defensive preparations at Cincinnati against an expected Confederate attack in September 1862. But, he specialized in scenes of camp life, armies on the move, and city and town life near battlegrounds. This may have been another manifestation of his lifelong interest in painting portraits and genre scenes.

Mosler resigned from Harper’s in the summer of 1863 and traveled to Germany where he enrolled at the Dusseldorf Academy, where generations of artists had perfected their skills by employing time-tested methods of drawing from plaster casts and live models, color preparation and use, and the creation of landscapes, portraits, and genre paintings on classically-approved subjects. Mosler studied at Dusseldorf for two years and then settled briefly in Paris where continued his studies as a private student of Ernest Hebert (1817-1908). He returned to Cincinnati in 1866 and quickly became a successful artist.  During the eight years (1866---1874) he resided in his old home he painted portraits and genre studies, adapting scenes of European peasant life to his surroundings. At that time he began a lifelong habit of dividing his residence between extended stays in the United States and Europe. Such was his ability that he achieved prominence on both continents.  

During his first sojourn back in Ohio, Mosler created three paintings that took as their subjects the Civil War and the terrible aftermath of the war’s destruction. “The Lost Cause,” “Leaving for War,” and “The Outpost” established Mosler as an important artist-interpreter of that era of American history. The two companion pieces applied European and American genre painting styles to the war. The melancholy but optimistic soldier in “Leaving for War” left behind a prosperous farmstead and a loving family, driven by an unknown motive “to see the elephant,” as was the common expression for enlisting in the Union and Confederate armies. Such a painting would have served well to depict any number of nineteenth-century European conflicts---the Napoleonic wars, the Crimean War, the Seven Weeks’ War of 1866, or the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. “The Lost Cause,” however, was specific to the defeat of the Confederacy, and its title placed it in the forefront of images of the emerging Lost Cause culture. In the second painting, that same soldier, ragged and crushed in spirit, viewed his destroyed, abandoned home and neglected fields. His family and his fortunes had vanished while he had fought for the Confederacy.  The painting certainly demonstrated to North and South alike the cost of the war and the effects of war, defeat, and subjugation upon the losing side. It simultaneously offered catharsis for the South and North in a European painting style that Mosler had recently mastered.  

Another aspect of “The Lost Cause” that gave it significance as an artistic expression of the Lost Cause, was the fact that it had been commissioned by Colonel Albert Seaton Berry of Covington, Kentucky. Berry had graduated from Miami University (in Ohio) and the Cincinnati Law School prior to the Civil War. When the conflict began he joined the Confederate States Army, serving in his own region in the army of General Braxton Bragg against the Union Army of Ohio and Kentucky, to which Mosler was assigned as a “special artist.”   Berry later joined the Confederate States Marines and was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, during 1863. When that city surrendered in February 1865, Berry was captured while traveling northward to Virginia. He secured a presidential pardon and returned to Newport, Kentucky, where he took up the life of a businessman and politician. A Democrat, he was mayor of Newport in 1876 and 1888 and a member of the Kentucky State Senate. In 1892 he was elected to the United States Congress and held office until 1901. Berry returned to his law practice and was briefly a state judge.  He died at Newport, Kentucky, on January 7, 1908.  

Colonel Berry had somehow learned of Mosler’s talent and commissioned him to paint “The Lost Cause.” That work of art has remained in the hands of Berry’s descendants to the present time. It is unknown whether Berry also commissioned “Leaving for War” but the disappearance of that painting suggests that was not the case. It is more likely that Mosler independently perceived the possibilities of “The Lost Cause” and determined to create the companion, especially if he thought that chromolithographs of the pair might be good sellers. In 1869 Mosler painted a second, smaller, and less accomplished version of “The Lost Cause,” which was the basis for the lithograph. That painting is at the Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA, and bears the mark “M 69.” Mosler recorded in a notebook that on May 3, 1871, he had received $236.91 royalties from the sale of the “Lost Cause” lithograph. It is likely that the lithograph of the now-lost “Leaving for War” painting was made around the same time as its companion.  

Mosler returned to Europe in 1875 to resume his artistic studies and to concentrate on building his reputation on the Continent. He spent two years at the Munich Academy of Art and then moved to Paris in 1877. By that time he had married and started a family. In Paris he established an atelier and lived the life of a French artist and teacher for twenty years. He found considerable success with the works he exhibited at the Paris Salon, winning an Honorable Mention in 1879 for his painting, “Le Retour,” a version of the Gospel parable of the prodigal son. The French government purchased that painting for its Salon collection, making Mosler the first American artist to secure such a distinction.  While in Paris he became known to the French painters Alexander Cabanal, Carolus Duran, and Benjamin Constant. American expatriate friends included the American sculptor Sir Moses Ezekiel, James McNeill Whistler, and Frederick Arthur Bridgman.   Mosler visited the United States in 1885 and again in 1890. He had a solo exhibition at the National Academy of Design in 1885 and, while in New York, secured an unusual commission from Hulbert Harrington Warner (1842---1913) of Rochester, NY, to create three large paintings. Two of them were to depict Native Americans in the American Southwest and the third, “The Husking Bee,” was a large agricultural pastoral scene.  

As a young man, H. H. Warner had traveled to Ohio and made the acquaintance of the Moslers and their safe company. He secured a franchise to sell Mosler safes in the Northeast and was so successful that he eventually founded a separate business hat he then sold to the Moslers. Warner then undertook the discovery and sale of numerous kinds of patent medicines. This business made him very wealthy, and he used his wealth in a variety of philanthropic ventures. One of his most notable was the support of scientific astronomy. 

To accomplish Warner’s commissions, Mosler traveled through Arizona and New Mexico during 1885 and 1886. He filled sketchbooks and made plein-aire studies which he used to create “Abandoned” (1887), which depicted nomadic Apaches and “The White Captive” (1886-7), a narrative in which a white woman bound to a tree was menaced by Indians. These paintings were large---10 x 14 feet---but neither of them survives today.  The third commission, “The Husking Bee,” is 7 x 11 feet and contains twenty-seven figures. It depicts the bucolic festivities and rustic, romantic play associated with country husking bees. Warner kept this painting in his home and it is now in a private collection.  

Mosler returned to the United States permanently in 1894. He settled his large family and his considerable collection of  paintings, artist’s props, and memorabilia of his travels in a large house in New York City. There he painted assiduously for the remainder of his life, exhibiting frequently in New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston. He even won a gold medal for a painting he submitted to the South Carolina and Inter-State West Indian Exposition of 1901 in Charleston. He also taught painting classes at Carnegie Hall and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Mosler’s artistic output was considerable and many of his paintings are found throughout the United States and Europe. This is the case even though few of his early works survive. With this in mind, the significance of “The Lost Cause” both to the artist’s legacy and to the development nineteenth-century American painting is amplified. The painting is an excellent example of the work he accomplished prior to his intensive study in Europe. It reveals the degree of technical sophistication and power of emotional representation he was naturally able to achieve. Indeed, the return of “The Lost Cause” to the body of American painting accomplishes a revolution in our understanding of the uses of art to depict accurately the anguish and futility of warfare and also a revolution in the history of American genre painting. Henry Mosler has been “rediscovered” not only as an important, overlooked American painter but also as a skilled, sensitive recorder of the art history of the American Civil War.    


Commissioned by Colonel Albert Seaton Berry (1836-1909) of Covington, KY
By descent to his son, Captain Robert L. Berry
By descent to his daughter, Lillie Berry Smith


National Academy of Design Annual Exhibition, National Academy of Design, New York, NY, 1868
Greenville Collects, Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville SC, May 16 to July 2, 1989

Picturing History: America Painting 1770-193, IBM Gallery of Science and Art, New York, NY, September 28 to November 27, 1993, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, January 29 to April 2, 1994, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX, April 24 to July 10, 1994, Center for the Fine Arts, Miami, FL, September 24 to December 24, 1994.

Henry Mosler Rediscovered: A 19th Century American-Jewish Artist, Hebrew Union College, Skirball Museum, Los Angeles, CA, October 21, 1995 to June 2, 1996, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH, June 23 to September 2, 1996 


Chambers, Bruce W.  Art and Artists of the South:  The Robert P. Coggins Collection.  Columbia:  University of South Carolina Press, 1984.
Gilbert, Barbara C.  Henry Mosler Rediscovered: A Nineteenth-Century American-Jewish Artist. Los Angeles, CA:  Skirball Museum/Skirball Cultural Center, 1995.
Henry Mosler File, Charleston Renaissance Gallery, Charleston, SC
Mills, Cynthia and Simpson, Pamela H., Eds.  Monuments to the Lost Cause:  Women, Art, and the Landscapes of Southern Memory.  Knoxville:  University of Tennessee Press, 2003.
Neely, Mark E. Jr. and others.  The Confederate Image:  Prints of the Lost Cause.  Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
Pennington, Estill Curtis.  The Last Meeting’s Lost Cause.  Spartanburg, SC:  Robert M. Hicklin Jr., 1988.
Quick, Michael. American Expatriate Painters of the Late Nineteenth Century.  Dayton, O: The Dayton Art Institute, 1976.
Seibels, Cynthia. The Sunny South: The Life and Art of William Aiken Walker. Spartanburg, SC:  Saraland Press, 1995.

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This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.

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