How the Swiss Immortalized the American Civil War
National Portrait Gallery Members Visit the Swiss Residence
A few weeks ago, Ambassador of Switzerland Martin Dahinden hosted the inaugural event of the National Portrait Gallery’s Diplomatic Cabinet. Chaired by Anita and Martin Dahinden and composed of twenty ambassadors, the Cabinet aims to further cultural exchanges among members of the international community in Washington and with the world-renowned museum.
Ambassador Dahinden spoke to his distinguished guests about the intimate ties between Switzerland and a young, newly independent United States of America. National Portrait Gallery Senior Historian David Ward also discussed some of the diplomatic aspects of the war and recounted the stories of several Swiss citizens involved in the conflict.
Two paintings in the Ambassador’s Residence show how close the two young republics were. A true Swiss memorial to the American Civil War, the portraits of General Sherman and General Robert E. Lee were painted in the second half of the 19th century by Swiss artist Frank Buchser. National Portrait Gallery Director Kim Sajet talked about the depiction of the two prominent American Civil War figures, captured as a timeless representation of the ideals of the young republic.
The Swiss closely followed the American Civil War in their Sister Republic, which they saw as a test case for their own political system, explained Ambassador Dahinden. Once the Civil War was over, the Swiss authorities gave the well-known Swiss painter a commission to go to the U.S. and do preparatory work for a mural painting to immortalize the war. The New York Times even published Buchser’s letter of recommendation from Federal Councillor Jakob Dubs upon his arrival in the United States.
“The outcome of the Civil War was seen in Switzerland as a reconfirmation of democracy and republican government and as a strengthening of citizens’ rights,” said Ambassador Dahinden.
Did you know that Switzerland and the United States of America were referred to as the Sister Republics in the nineteenth century? After the Civil War, the two countries were the only republics in the world. Their constitutions and legal systems are very close even today!
The Swiss Also Immortalized the Civil War through Haute Cuisine
But “Buchser was not the only person from Switzerland who honored key personalities from the American Civil War,” emphasized Ambassador Dahinden. The famous Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York, founded by Italian-speaking Swiss immigrants, created dishes named after some of the personalities Buchser wanted to paint. Many late-nineteenth-century celebrities had dinner at Delmonico’s, where Soft Clams Grant, Filet de Sole à la General Sherman and Pudding à la Ulysses S. Grant were served. “More than one of them reflect the personality of the individual who gave the dish its name,” observed Ambassador Dahinden.