Representations of War and the Comparisons of Timothy O’Sullivan’s Photograph

The theme I have chosen to work on is Representations of War. This paper will focus on the comparisons of Timothy O’Sullivan’s photograph, Harvest of the Dead, July 4th, 1863 which captures real life, and death on the battle field, Francisco de Goya’s painting The Third of May 1808 which is a depiction of citizens in line for death by execution, and also Jake, and Dinos Chapman’s Fucking Hell, which is a contemporary depiction of war by sculpting toy soldiers into a Nazi apocalypse.

In comparing these three pieces I hope to emphasize the importance the studying not only the humanities, but to also compound upon the importance of how using one’s artistic abilities can bring to light the histories of the past, so that future generations can learn from it.

O’Sullivan’s photograph Harvest of Death exhibits the immeasurable magnitude of the battle waged during the Civil War.

O’ Sullivan focuses front, and center on soldiers who’ve lost their lives during the Civil War. This photograph is an explicit inside look as to what can and has happen as a result of men participating in war. This up close, and personal photograph not only demonstrates the loss of life resulting from war, but also the loss of humanity during wartime.

Goya’s The Third of May 1808 also records the results of war from Napoleon’s occupation of Spain, but from a different view which is from the eyes of those who were fighting for their freedom.

Get quality help now

Proficient in: Civil War

4.9 (247)

“ Rhizman is absolutely amazing at what he does . I highly recommend him if you need an assignment done ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Goya’s use of contrasting light, and dark lead the eyes of the beholder to focus on the figure in white. Goya’s depiction of this event on the Third of May, gives the viewer insight as to what happened that lead to so many lives being lost.

Although both artists use an in your face approach to elicit emotions from their audiences, it is clear that the subject of each piece shows a bias on the part of each artist. Regardless of the mediums used, both artists creations can stir up a visceral response from their audiences, and even though these representations of war are depicted through the eyes of two different people, the ending results show the results of the devastations of war.

Harvest of Death

In the case of Timothy O’Sullivan’s, Harvest of Death, Mr. O’Sullivan zones in on dead soldiers lying in an open battlefield during the Civil War. The battlefield seems to stretch for miles. In the background there two figures one mounted on a horse, and one walking beside his mount. Even further past them are what look to be the silhouettes of trees, and even farther than that the silhouettes of rolling hills. The bodies of soldiers lie in the field from the forefront, almost to the very far parts of the photograph. The open landscape of the photograph lets the audience know that the battle field was massive.

Taking a closer look at the soldiers in the forefront of the photograph you will find that the soldiers have been stripped of their shoes. Towards the middle of the photograph there is a soldier who has even been stripped of his socks. There are also items on the ground surrounding the bodies of these men, which suggest that they were searched by the men in the far background of whatever other valuables they had. Although these men lost their lives fighting for what they believed, once dead they held no more value to those, they served except for what could be stolen from their corpses. “Such a picture conveys a useful moral: It shows the blank horror, and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry.” (Gardner) Many photographs taken during the Civil War were documentary, as were their titles. (Perich) In titling this photograph A Harvest of Death, Mr. O’Sullivan is begging the viewers to stop, and think about the human cost of the war.

The Third of May

Francisco de Goya’s, The Third of May, 1808 shows war through the eyes of those who played no particular role in the war other than for fighting for their rights to freedom (Zappella). Goya’s painting uses the contrast of light, and dark to draw the eyes of his audience to the figure in white. The contrast of colors in his painting is not the only way Goya draws the eye to his martyr.

On the dark side of the painting he paints bold lines in drawing the soldiers, and the guns that they are pointing to the lighter side of the picture. Goya further leads the eye to the figure in white by trapping him in front of hill, behind the dead body besides him, and with a depiction of a large institution blocking the way, as if to say there is no escape from a most certain death.

Taking a closer look at the figure in white you can see that he is not painted with any particular detail aside from the fact that he in on his knees, and the expression given up by his body language is that of despair. This man knows he is about to die, along with his companions around him that are holding their faces in their hand and covering their eyes in fear of what’s soon to be their fate. “His pose is reminiscent of the Crucifixion. On the palms of his right hand are marks of the stigmata.” These simple details give away the artist emotions as to how he feels about the figures in his painting and can certainly come to the conclusion that he views these victims as martyrs. (


Although both of these pieces are representations of war, they are extremely different. Goya’s Third of May was painted in the year 1814 about six years after the Napoleons invasion, is only the artist rendition of Napoleons occupation of Spain and completed during the time of Romanticism. “Romanticism was an intellectual movement from the late 18th to the mid 19th century, and during that time artist believed that to be authentic, their paintings has to evoke strong emotional responses from their viewers. (Mind Edge) Painting during this time period would have greatly influences how Goya decided to paint his subject.

Photography on the other hand was not invented until around 1824. Timothy O’Sullivans photograph, A Harvest of War was taken in 1863 during the period of Realism, and 49 years after Goya’s painting. During the period of Realism artist sought to create more objective, and accurate images of the world. (Mind Edge) Being able to take a first-hand real account of what happened to these soldiers on the battle field would give O’Sullivans audience a real-life view of the horrors experienced during the Civil War and leaves no doubt in the mind the tragic results.


Even though these two pieces are very different, there is a very real message both artists want to leave their audiences with. There are no true winners in war. The first evidence of this message is from the obvious portrayal of death in both pieces. Whether the artist showed their victims from the point of the soldiers, or form the point of the freedom fighters, the ending result equaled the same results.

These pieces were also similar in depicting the lack of escape routes for their subjects. In O’Sullivans photograph the soldiers were trapped by the hills behind them, just as the martyrs in Goya’s painting were trapped by the establishment in the far background, and by the slanting of the hill behind the figure in white. Death was inescapable. This reality not only applied for those in the past, but also to those of us here, and now. The results of war have not passed over those if us who live in contemporary society.

Contemporary Application

Even though Jake, and Dinos Chapmans exhibit Fucking Hell, 2008 does not depict an actual event, it does however represent the artist view of genocide during wartime. (Cube, S. W. (2015, June 16) In their 9-exhibit installation, the Chapman brothers use toy soldiers to piece together a Nazi apocalypse. This extreme display of death was made to stir the visceral emotions of how murderous experiences throughout time, can lead us to have empathy for our fellow human beings. Their goal was to stir up an emotional response, by allowing the audience to experience death, without experiencing death which can be said for each one of these artists.


What can contemporary society learn from studying the humanities? Even though each of these works of art were created during times where reasoning was different, we can analyze what past artist are trying to speak out against or prevent from happening in the future. From O’Sullivan, to Goya, to the Chapman brothers, each artist used their particular mediums to send a particular message to the audiences of their time. O’Sullivan’s photograph shows us real life, and that no matter what side a soldier, or civilian may stand on there are real cost to waging war, and once dead we lose our humanity not only in death, but also in devaluing those who sacrificed their lives for us. Although Goya’s painting is not an actual image of what happened during the executions of the freedom fighters during the Spanish war, his painting gives his audience a graphic depiction of the inescapable injustices faced by the political prisoners murdered during Napoleons reign, and The Chapman brothers imagination of Nazi hell serves as a contemporary reminder of the many lives lost during World War 2. The summary of these three pieces only leads to one conclusion, and that is to look to our past to change our present, and our future. The artist of our past, and present are crying out in protest for us to hear them and listen. The study of humanities will always serve as a reminder of where we have come from, and where we are headed. It is us to us to change the narrative.

Cite this page

Representations of War and the Comparisons of Timothy O’Sullivan’s Photograph. (2021, Feb 10). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7