“1898: U.S. Imperial Visions and Revisions,” at The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has announced “1898: U.S. Imperial Visions and Revisions,” marking the 125th anniversary of the year that the United States acquired overseas territories and emerged as a world power. Opening April 28, “1898: U.S. Imperial Visions and Revisions” is the first major Smithsonian museum exhibition to examine the War of 1898 (often called the Spanish-American War), the Congressional Joint Resolution to annex Hawai‘i (July 1898), the Philippine-American War (1899–1913) and the legacy of this controversial chapter in history. Through the lens of portraiture and visual culture, this exhibition of more than 90 objects presents the perspectives of those who advocated for overseas expansion, those who opposed it and those who tried to have agency over their political futures when the United States brought Cuba, Guam, Hawai‘i, Puerto Rico and the Philippines into its sphere of power.

Francisco Oller, Eugenio María de Hostos, n.d. Oil on canvas, 22 3/4 x 15 3/8 in. Collection of Museo de Historia, Antropología y Arte Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto Río Piedras

“1898: U.S. Imperial Visions and Revisions” is co-curated by Taína Caragol, curator of painting, sculpture and Latino art and history, and Kate Clarke Lemay, historian, with assistance from Carolina Maestre, curatorial assistant for Latino art and history. Online audiences will have access to exhibition components and educational resources through a dedicated website in English and Spanish with translations of exhibition texts available in CHamoru, Filipino and ʻŌlelo Hawai‘i. A press preview of the exhibition with the curators will be held Thursday, April 27, 10–11:30 a.m. RSVP to duncanc@si.edu.

“In 1898, the United States began to emerge as a world power, employing a newly modernized naval fleet to engage and defeat the Spanish navy in both Manila and Cuba,” Lemay said. “As the country expanded through seizing overseas territories, including Hawai‘i, it also looked to control access to the sea, an effort culminating with the construction of the Panama Canal in 1913. The year 1913 also witnessed the final skirmishes of the Philippine-American War, a conflict whose brutality shocked many and incurred vehement debates in the United States about imperialism. Although often overlooked, this period of U.S. history was pivotal in terms of the country’s emergence as a world power, and its consequences continue to influence international policies.”

Francisco Oller, Portrait of William McKinley, 1898. Oil on canvas, 57 x 34 in. Private collection

“1898: U.S. Imperial Visions and Revisions” positions 1898 as the apex of the nation’s trajectory of territorial expansion dating back to the founding of the Thirteen Colonies. The exhibition anchors the history of 1898 in the displacement and war against Native American nations and examines how that expansion then reached overseas territories.

The sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor toward the end of Cuba’s final War of Independence (1895–98) provided the justification for the United States to intervene militarily in Cuba. While the ship’s explosion was likely caused by erupting furnaces, many in the United States blamed Spain, paving the way for the United States to take Spanish-controlled lands in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

The War of 1898 and the ensuing Philippine-American War (1899–1913) allowed the United States to assert control over Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. Over the course of the War of 1898, the United States also annexed Hawai‘i by Congressional joint resolution.

“1898: U.S. Imperial Visions and Revisions” juxtaposes portraits of key figures in the U.S. debates regarding overseas expansion with those of reformists and freedom fighters including José Martí from Cuba, Eugenio María de Hostos from Puerto Rico, José Rizal from the Philippines, and Padre José Bernardo Palomo from Guam. To address the overthrow and subsequent annexation of Hawaiʻi in July 1898, the exhibition includes a revered portrait of Queen Liliʻuokalani, the Hawaiian Kingdom’s only queen regnant and its last sovereign monarch. On loan from the Hawaiʻi State Archives, with support from the ‘Iolani Palace and the Royal Hawaiian Benevolent Societies, this is the first time that the portrait will be on view outside of the royal’s homeland.

Frederic Remington, The Charge of the Rough Riders, 1898. Oil on canvas, 35 x 60 in. 
Collection of the Frederic Remington Art Museum, Gift of the Remington Estate

“In the United States, the War of 1898 and the territorial expansion it yielded have been hailed as a triumph that ushered in an era of U.S. global power,” Caragol said. “However, this historical period also witnessed intense debate, when many in the United States and in the lands it seized asked: How could a nation born out of an anti-colonial struggle take into its possession overseas territories? Did this go against the country’s founding values of freedom? This exhibition focuses on those debates and points to their aftermath.”

“Portrait of Queen Lili‘uokalani” by William F. Cogswell. Oil on canvas, 1892, Hawai'i State Archives

“1898: U.S. Imperial Visions and Revisions” presents objects and research developed from curatorial visits to 74 collections around the globe. Likenesses of individuals are accompanied by genre paintings and seascapes of various battles. Artworks by leading period artists Winslow Homer, Armando García Menocal, Juan Luna, Francisco Oller y Cestero, John Singer Sargent and Frederic Remington are on view alongside archival documents. Maps, board games, magazine illustrations and caricatures illustrate how imagery was used to gain public support for the government’s expansionist efforts.

“1898: U.S. Imperial Visions and Revisions” is made possible through the generosity of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Ann S. and Samuel M. Mencoff, Luis A. Miranda, Jr., the Miranda Family Foundation, the Terra Foundation for American Art, and many other supporters. The exhibition received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center, and the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. “1898: U.S. Imperial Visions and Revisions” is presented in consultation with an advisory committee of scholars from various backgrounds and specialties, notably Silvia Álvarez Curbelo, David Aiona Chang, Jorge Duany, Anne Perez Hattori, Kristin L. Hoganson, Brian M. Linn, Ambeth Ocampo, Lanny Thompson and Neil Weare. A new book, co-published by the National Portrait Gallery and Princeton University Press and edited by the exhibition’s curators, will include texts by Caragol, Lemay, Maestre and six outside scholars: Duany, Theodore S. Gonzalves, Hoganson, Healoha Johnston, Paul A. Kramer and Weare. 1898: Visual Culture and U.S. Imperialism in the Caribbean and the Pacific is slated for release in summer 2023.

National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of the United States through the individuals who have shaped American culture. Spanning the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the nation’s story.

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