PHOTO: Artist Maarten Platje at work.
Highlands, NJ - A new, multi-gallery exhibit of historic maritime paintings is open to the public at the Twin Lights Museum. “Guns Blazing! The War of 1812 and the New Jersey Shore” features 15 dramatic works in oil by Maarten Platje, whose bold brushwork and attention to detail brings to life a game-changing chapter in American naval history. The exhibit, in Galleries II and III of the museum, also features historic artifacts and a short video on the 32-month conflict between the United States and Great Britain.
“Guns Blazing!” is the product of a partnership between two highly active local groups—Twin Lights Historical Society and Navesink Maritime Heritage Association—as well as Cavalier Galleries in New York City and the Twin Lights National Landmark. The exhibit has drawn wide acclaim at two previous U.S. stops this year, and will be at Twin Lights until November 22nd.
“The opening year of the War of 1812 featured a series of epic single-ship sea battles between the United State and Great Britain,” says Rik van Hemmen of the Navesink Maritime Heritage Association. “The quality of American shipbuilding, strategy and seamanship resulted in a string of victories that opened the world’s eyes to the power and promise of our young nation.”
Platje, a native of the Netherlands, has won numerous awards for his maritime paintings during a career that has spanned more than three decades. He devoted years of research to the creation of historically accurate depictions of these iconic naval confrontations from the War of 1812.
“Even ardent history buffs need a refresher course on the War of 1812,” admits Jeff Tyler, President of the Twin Lights Historical Society. “Maarten’s monumental oil paintings definitely get the adrenaline pumping and make you curious about the war beyond the wild, one-on-one sea battles. We’ve added a short video presentation to the exhibit to help visitors put what they are seeing into context.”
That context includes the fact that the single-ship battles depicted by Platje involved so much carnage that both sides eventually instructed their captains to avoid them altogether. The museum video covers action on sea and land during the war, including the bombardment of Ft. McHenry made famous by Francis Scott Key in “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the unlikely victory of Andrew Jackson’s rag-tag army over 8,000 British Marines at the Battle of New Orleans.
“An interesting backdrop to the War of 1812 is that it didn’t even have to happen,” points out Twin Lights trustee Mark Stewart.
Indeed, the primary issue leading up to the war, England’s policy of impressment of American sailors, had been officially scrapped by Parliament. Unfortunately, it took three weeks for news to travel across the Atlantic. By the time British diplomats anchored in Sandy Hook Bay to deliver the good news, they received the bad news that the shooting had already begun. Likewise, the victory at New Orleans that ultimately propelled Andrew Jackson to the White House came two weeks after America and England had ended the war, with the Treaty of Ghent.
Perhaps the most important take-away from the War of 1812 was that the United States was more than capable of defending itself against European powers. Though dwarfed by the Royal Navy, the U.S. fleet proved it could deal deathblows to British ships in intense, one-on-one action. The Constitution earned its nickname “Old Ironsides” during these single-ship victories.
“Military historians have commented that the sea battles depicted in the ‘Guns Blazing!’ exhibit have the quality of personal duels between naval commanders,” points out van Hemmen, a marine engineer and senior partner at Martin, Ottaway, van Hemmen & Dolan in Tinton Falls. “And indeed they were.”
“I think that will be instantly apparent to anyone who comes here and experiences Maarten’s work.”
The Twin Lights National Historic Landmark is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 AM to 4 PM. Admission to the North Tower and museum is free. All donations, as well as proceeds from the Museum Store, fund new exhibits and special projects. For more information on days, hours and special events, visittwinlightslighthouse.com or call 732-872-1814.