This work shows three music players, with soldiers in the background and foreground, with an American flag in the sky

Archibald M. Willard

American, 1836–1918

The Spirit of ’76, c. 1875

Oil on canvas

24 x 18 inches

Signed lower right

Archibald Willard began his career as a carriage and furniture painter in the town of Wellington, Ohio. He served in the Civil War and in 1873 went to New York to pursue formal art studies. Willard’s humorous paintings and illustrations from this period caught the attention of James F. Ryder, a Cleveland businessman. Ryder recognized the mass appeal of Willard’s art and encouraged the artist to submit a painting for the upcoming Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia. For the exhibition Willard painted a monumental canvas, 10 by 8 feet, at the time titled Yankee Doodle. The work was very popular, drawing great crowds at the Centennial. That version now hangs in Abbot Hall in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Due to its popularity, Willard would go on to paint several other versions of the same subject, whose title was later changed to The Spirit of ’76, and the present work is one of Willard’s earliest versions on the smaller scale. Ryder and Willard collaborated to make chromolithographic reproductions of the subject for the Centennial, and the image became an iconic symbol of patriotism. Willard intended his composition to carry a lighter tone, as preliminary sketches depicted a Fourth of July parade. However, following his father’s death in 1874, Willard took a more reverent approach; in fact, his late father was the model for the stately man at center, beating his drum. The boy at left was modeled after Henry Kelsey Devereaux, a young military student from Ohio.  The model for the rugged fifer was Willard’s childhood friend and fellow war veteran, Hugh Mosher.

This work shows three music players, with soldiers in the background and foreground, with an American flag in the sky