Art, Stars and Stripes

Childe Hassam, The Fourth of July 


Henri Cartier Bresson, Independence Day on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, 1947

Robert Mapplethorpe, American Flag, 1977


Helmut Lang 1998 ad campaign


Jasper Johns


Andy Warhol


Litography by Robert Rauschenberg


Martin Luther King, Jr. photographed by Steve Schapiro


Pictures by Robert Frank


Still from Mr. Freedom (William Klein, 1969)


Photo by Gordon Parks


Poster designed by Seymour Chwast


Photo credit: Art Kane


Liu Bolin


America’s Declaration of Independence from Britain on the 4th July, 1776, resulted in the birth of a new national flag in 1777. The first Flag Act, passed by the Continental Congress, resolved that the flag of the United States be made of thirteen alternate red and white stripes and thirteen white stars on a blue field, in order to represent America’s thirteen states and the country’s democratic Government. The colours red, white, and blue, though clearly derived from British sources, are open to interpretation. George Washington declared: “We take the stars from heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing liberty.” A book published in 1777 by the House of Representatives stated that “the star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun.” Although the first Flag Act specifies no particular symbolism to the flag, white is a colour believed to signify purity and innocence; red, hardiness and valour; and blue, vigilance, perseverance, and justice. The first stirring of the flag’s power was documented at the battle of Fort McHenry in 1814. In a poem that would later become the American national anthem, about the banner that survived British bombardment, the poet Francis Scott Key wrote: “…broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight… Oh, say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave… and the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave.”