The young Zouave signed and dated 'Th. Nast/1/62'(lower right) oil on canvas 23 x 23in
The Zoaves were a group of American volunteer soldiers from the Union side of the Civil War. They adopted the colorful uniform of the French Zoaves who fought in the Algerian campaigns in 1830s who were known for their bravery and obviously, their striking outfits.
Formed by Elmer Ellsworth in Illinois in 1860, the U.S. Zouave Cadets of Chicago were the first such militia formed. They performed drills and toured twenty cities that year. Their presence inspired the formation of dozens of similar units, most notably the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, with whom Nast would have been familliar.
The present painting is dated 1862, a time when there was most likely more Northern zeal for the conflict than in later years. Here we see a young boy dressed in a child's Zoave uniform. He is 'reporting for duty' to his mother and baby sister. Missing, of course, is the father who is undoubtedly off to war and likely in a Zoave regiment.
Thomas Nast the German-born illustrator is known primarily for his caricatures and cartoons for Harper's Weekly during the Civil War. He did however execute some serious easel paintings related to the conflict. They are rare to the market, but recently his painting 'The Halt(A Dink of Water)' has been across the auction block.