Peace (The White Squadron in Boston Harbor)
Peace (The White Squadron in Boston Harbor), a monumental seascape painting located in Cannon House Office Building Room 311, was originally purchased by the House in 1900 for the Committee on Naval Affairs. Although this committee no longer exists, the powerful painting continues to evoke the nationalistic pride of the 19th century.
Peace was completed in 1893 by the prominent seascape artist Walter Lofthouse Dean (1854—1912). The impressive painting, roughly six feet in height and nine feet in width, captures a fleet of warships as they move out of Boston Harbor. The five U.S. cruisers—Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Yorktown, and Newark—first set sail in the fall of 1889 and are appropriately referred to as the White Squadron or the Squadron of Evolution. The most prominent vessel, leading the trailing vessels, in the center of the picture plane, is the warship Chicago. Dean captures the ships’ movement by applying short, gestural brushstrokes to the canvas, in a manner that creates an impressionistic, atmospheric quality to the seascape.
Peace was accepted to hang in the U.S. Capitol in 1900 to decorate the hearing room for the U.S. House of Representative’s Naval Affairs Committee. The artwork would have been an appropriate painting for the committee, as they were responsible for authorizing the new warships. Moreover, the painting, like the White Squadron itself, had become widely popular, thereby making it fitting for “the people’s House.” After Peace was exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, it was displayed in the Capitol. The actual purchase of the painting by Congress became a minor controversy. Initially the artist requested $5,000 for the artwork, a price that was deemed too high in 1900. Dean died in 1912, and it was not until the spring of 1927 when Peace was formally bought.
Peace captures the moment the ships were disembarking on their heroic maiden voyage to Europe, an historic event in American history. The Civil War left the U.S. Navy in sad shape and ill-matched to its European rivals. After long discussions between the Navy Department and the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Naval Affairs, the House approved the commission of a fleet of new twin screw, steel-hulled, steam-powered warships. As the new fleet took to the water, in unison, word spread across the nation of the modern ships and their maiden transatlantic voyage. The fanfare surrounding the White Squadron continued to infiltrate popular culture, and the squadron became a symbol of prosperity for the American people.
On December 7, 1889, the squadron departed from the Boston Harbor, for Lisbon, Portugal, the first stop on its European tour. The White Squadron’s departure from the harbor, out into the open waters, was quite the spectacle; a reporter described their send-off as “a beautiful sight, that of the four moving men-of-war gliding like huge swans down the harbor.” The squadron’s maiden European cruise was both symbolic and politically poignant. The White Squadron’s task was to show off America’s new warships, gather intelligence on European fleets, generate conversations on the expansion of open trade and business, and practice tactical war maneuvers. The transatlantic tour was a success, and the squadron received many visitors in various coastal European and North African cities. Following their stop in Algiers, the White Squadron left Europe for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to serve as a diplomatic presence in the new republic. As Peace continues to remind its viewers in Cannon House Office Building Room 311, the White Squadron marks the start of the United States continued naval presence as one of the most powerful fleets in the Western hemisphere.