Archibald M. Willard, American, 1836 - 1919
Medium: Oil on linen
Painting: 35 1/2 x 49 1/2 in. (90.2 x 125.7 cm)
Frame: 46 1/4 x 60 3/8 x 4 in. (117.5 x 153.4 x 10.2 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Paul and Elissa Cahn Foundation
Object Number: 2003.12
Not on view
Archibald McNeal Willard was born in Ohio, where he worked as a carriage and furniture painter. In 1863 he enlisted in the 86th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. During the Civil War, he illustrated battle scenes and befriended the photographer and entrepreneur James F. Ryder, who encouraged Willard to sell photographic copies of his drawings. The royalties from the sales afforded Willard sufficient income to travel to New York City and study art. His talents were quickly recognized and within a year he exhibited at the National Academy of Design. Willard’s career blossomed after his well-known painting The Spirit of '76 was displayed at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Originally titled Yankee Doodle, the painting portrays a drum and fife corps that was responsible for relaying instructions to soldiers, directing the troop’s movement, and providing inspiration to the military forces during the war.
Continuing to work within the genre of history painting, Willard depicts a soldier’s painful but patriotic duty in Minute Men. The image is a narrative that illustrates and memorializes the heroic spirit of the men who fought in the Revolutionary War. A man, interrupted while chopping wood, and his wife gaze out across the expansive countryside towards a skirmish developing on the bridge below. The family gathers around him in anticipation of his departure for battle. The dramatic connection created between the family and the wide-open panorama in the background symbolizes the importance of the land to the burgeoning nation. A simple scene of leave-taking, Minute Men both links and celebrates family, home, and country.