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Documentary Drawings in the Library of Congress, 1776-1970

This guide gives an overview of about 4,000 Prints & Photographs Division drawings by American and international artists including eyewitness drawings from the American Civil War. Research strengths, search strategies, and related resources are covered.


Drawing showing large group of African American men, women and children greeting each other and conversing outdoors
Alfred Waud, artist. African American soldiers mustered out at Little Rock, Arkansas 1866. DRWG/US. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Documentary drawings differ from other drawing formats, including fine art, cartoons and caricatures, illustrations, and other art forms because the intent of the documentary drawing is to make an accurate record. The content varies and includes portraiture, events, the landscape during a quiet moment in a war, troop movements in battle, the streets and buildings of a city, and the gesture of a lawyer during a trial, among many other subjects. Typically hired by news media outlets to create their drawings, artists may make a loose gestural rough sketch, intending to work it up in detail later, or the artist may have a loose gestural style in their final work. Although imagination comes into play, the intent in production is to clearly and accurately reflect what the artist sees.

While documentary drawings abound in the Prints and Photographs Division, the scope of this guide addresses two collections that complement each other: DRWG/US (American artists) and DRWG1 (international artists), containing about 4,300 drawings in total.

The real strength of the documentary drawing collection, however, is the nearly 1,900 drawings created during and after the American Civil War by such “special artists” as Alfred Waud and his brother, William Waud, Edwin Forbes, and Arthur Lumley, as well as soldier-artist Adolph Metzner, and James Queen and Lieutenant William McIlvaine, two trained artists who documented their lives as soldiers. These are filed within the DRWG/US collection.

Most of the art came to the Library by purchase and gift. A few drawings were acquired through copyright deposit, including Mrs. G. M. Van Wagnener's Design for asparagus set (1890).