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Verity Vs. Verisimilitude
In Ferris' The First Thanksgiving, the eternal battle between the history and the meaning of Thanksgiving rages on.

By Stefany Anne Golberg

“A day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” — George Washington, the first President of the United States, delivering the National Thanksgiving Proclamation, on October 3rd, 1789 

For the last thirty years of his life — the first thirty years of 20th century America — the historical genre painter Jean Leon Gerome Ferris devoted himself to capturing the history of America in paint. He called the result of this enormous task — a series of 78 scenes from the landing of Columbus to the start of World War I — The Pageant of a Nation. No one had ever seen America like this: All her heroes, great and small, presented in one complete and satisfying narrative — the most extensive series of American historical paintings by an individual artist before or since.

The paintings, wrote the authors of History of the Portrait Collection, Independence National Historical Park, were “expertly executed reproductions of the past”; Ferris on par with the best historical genre painters of his time. They were meticulously researched and crafted. And yet, the authors wrote, Ferris’ paintings said more about the era in which they were created than the events they portray. The paintings “formed a bridge between fact and fiction over which the viewers…were willing travelers.” The Pageant of a Nation, wrote the authors, confused “verity with verisimilitude.”



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