Late 19th C. Image of Famed Elder Painting of the Crater by C.R. Rees


Late 19th Century Image of the Famed Elder Painting of the Crater by C.R. Rees – This image is imprinted with the name of the famed Richmond (and later Petersburg), Civil War period photographer, C.R. Rees. Rees, born in Pennsylvania, set up a photography studio in New York City, working there through the mid-1850s, Rees moved his family and photography business to Richmond, in 1859, remaining in business there throughout the Civil War, establishing himself as the premier photographer of Confederate soldiers and local dignitaries.  This unusual image of John Elder’s famed painting of the Battle of the Crater, was most likely taken by Rees, some time after he had moved his studio, after the fall of Richmond, to Petersburg. Charles Rees, at the age of fifty, relocated to Petersburg, setting up his photography business at the J.E. Rockwell Gallery on Sycamore St. By now, his oldest son James would be working with him, soon to be followed by another son, Edward Jr. In Petersburg, Rees and Sons flourished, as many fine Victorian portraits from this period show Charles’s mastery with a camera. As noted in a monograph by D. A. Serrano, appearing in the online “OLD PHOTOGRAPHIC – The Online Vintage Photography Magazine”:

“By 1859, the Richmond area had become the adopted home of Charles and his new wife Minerva, a 19 year old Yankee girl from Ohio. The thirty year old photographer listed Ashland VA as his home, 10,000 in real estate and two young sons, James and Eddie. With his brother Edwin he set up a studio at 135 Main St. called Rees’ Steam Gallery. Richmond became the new capital of the Confederacy and the influx of politicians and especially soldiers meant a dramatic increase in business. At a new address, 145 Main St. over West and Johnston’s bookstore, Charles advertised “Prices for finely executed photographs 4$ and upwards, you are not detained more than 10 minutes.

Everything in Richmond would change on the morning of April 3rd 1865. Prior to evacuating, whether by design or mistake, General Ewell ordered the tobacco warehouse burned. As the last organized troops crossed the Mayo Bridge, the downtown warehouse area was already engulfed in flame. At the head of the rear guard crossing the bridge, General Martin W. Gary leaned down from his horse to the engineer in charge and briskly ordered “Blow her to Hell.” With that, the war effectively ended for Richmonders but the devastation was just beginning. The fire quickly spread north to the businesses on Main Street and the Rees studio along with many other establishments was destroyed. Almost as soon as the embers of downtown Richmond died, the rebuilding would begin. By 1866 Rees was back in business at a new studio at 913 Main St.

Around 1871 his brother Edwin would relocate to Petersburg and go into partnership with G.W. Minnis dying there in 1874.  Charles continued to show a flair for copywriting and was always seeking ways to bring in new clients, an ad in 1872 states” In consideration of the scarcity of money we have endeavored to reduce our prices, photographs equal to anything produced in New York and Philadelphia.” Perhaps a down turn in the Richmond economy or for some other unknown reason, Charles, at the age of fifty also relocates to Petersburg setting up shop at the J.E. Rockwell Gallery on Sycamore St. By now his oldest son James would be working with him, soon to be followed by another son Edward Jr. In Petersburg Rees and Sons flourished and many fine Victorian portraits from this period show Charles’s mastery with a camera. Charles R. Rees was still working behind the camera into his 80’s. His attitude towards women photographers had softened and now his wife Minerva also worked in the studio taking pictures. Charles passed on in 1914.”

This image, which we have never seen before, was apparently taken in the postwar years, by Rees, of the famed John Elder, monumental and graphic painting of the Battle of the Crater, now hanging in the renown Commonwealth Club, in Richmond. This painting is probably the most famous painting of the Crater; it was completed, in 1869, by John Elder. Elder was born in 1833 and studied under Daniel Huntington in New York. The painting was commissioned by prominent Petersburg resident, and “Hero of the Crater”, General William Mahone, who is best remembered for leading the successful Confederate counterattack that resulted in the retaking of the salient, on July 30, 1864.

The original Crater painting measures 38-by 61 inches. The image taken by Rees, remains in its original, period, gilded wood frame, with its original wood backing, behind the image. The image is in excellent condition and exhibits a high degree of clarity and resolution; it is mounted, in the frame, surrounded by its original mat, which is somewhat age foxed. The image measures as follows: Frame – Height: 21”; Width – 25.25”; Image – Height: 8”; Width: 12.75”.







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