Peace (The White Squadron in Boston Harbor), or more simply Peace, has been around the block — the Capitol block. This monumental painting once hung in the Committee on Naval Affairs’ hearing room in the Capitol and now resides in the Committee on Homeland Security’s hearing room in the Cannon House Office Building. The maritime painting was completed in 1893 by prominent seascape artist Walter Lofthouse Dean and is huge—roughly 6 feet high and 9 feet wide. It depicts the newly commissioned U.S. Navy cruisers Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Yorktown, and Newark in Boston Harbor.
This fleet of warships, hulls painted sparkling white, was appropriately referred to as the White Squadron. It was also known as the Squadron of the Evolution for its role in strategically rebuilding the U.S. Navy. Soon after it assembled, the White Squadron made its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe as an emissary from the new naval power. Like its subject, Peace is not only impressive but also reflects a pivotal moment in the reconstruction of America and its navy and the enthusiasm for the fleet that swept the nation at the turn of the century.
The squadron made its public debut November 1889, when the new twin screw, steel-hulled, steam-powered warships traveled to Massachusetts and anchored in the Boston Harbor before leaving for its highly anticipated cruise. The squadron’s arrival in the harbor was marked with great pomp: the fleet was greeted with a thirteen-gun salute and welcomed by the governor, the mayor, and the city council. Cheers went up from thousands of spectators who had gathered for the city’s conveniently concurrent maritime exposition. The White Squadron became the exposition’s main draw. Visitors toured the vessels and watched the fleet perform drills and competitions. Thousands of Bostonians gathered on “piers and all points of vantage from which a view of the squadron may be obtained” to watch the ships practice tactical maneuvering in “apple-pie order.”
During its international tour of Europe and later stop in Brazil, the White Squadron was celebrated in America. In September 1892, a patriotic play, The White Squadron, began touring nationwide. The drama was loosely based on the fleet’s visit to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Critics left the theater both in awe of its spectacular “four carloads of scenery” and performances by the “most handsomest men in America.” Even after the White Squadron officially disbanded, it lived on through composer Theodore Tobani’s two-step march, “The White Squadron.” The upbeat tune was especially popular with U.S. military bands. More lasting examples of the American public’s esteem of the White Squadron were paintings of fleet displayed at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Dean’s painting Peace was one of those artworks, and its size and subject attracted the attention of many fair-goers.
Likewise, Peace caught the eye of the House members on the Committee on Naval Affairs. Following the painting’s star turn at the fair, it moved to the House of Representatives, where it has remained for more than a century. Although subsequent decades saw a decline in fascination with the White Squadron, Peace continues to charm viewers with its beauty, and intrigue them as a reminder of this turning point in America’s naval power.
Sources: Daniel H. Wicks, “The First Cruise of the Squadron of Evolution,” Military Affairs, Vol. 44 No. 2 (April 1980): 64-69; Michael Killian, “Art lessons at the 1893 World’s Fair, the pictures told a story,” Chicago Tribune (16 May 1993): 18; Washington Post; Chicago Tribune; New York Times.Follow @USHouseHistory