DescriptionHENRY ARTHUR (HARRY) MCARDLE (American, 1836-1908)
The Battle of San Jacinto, 1901
Oil on canvas
48 x 84 inches (121.9 x 213.4 cm)
Signed, dated, and inscribed lower right: H.A. McArdle / 1901 / Painted for J.T. DeShields
By descent to Marie McArdle;
By descent to George Bland;
By descent to Elisabeth Bland.
H.A. (Harry) McArdle was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1836; the same year that the Battle of San Jacinto was fought and Texas won its independence. He came to America as an orphan in 1850 and ten years later enrolled at the Maryland Institute of Art, where he won the prestigious Peabody Prize. After enlisting in the Confederate army, McArdle became a draftsman for the Confederate Navy. He later served with General Robert E. Lee in his first campaign in West Virginia on the engineer staff.
After the Civil War, McArdle began work on Lee in the Wilderness, his first battle painting. In the winter of 1868, McArdle and his family moved to Independence, Texas, and McArdle continued working on Lee in the Wilderness, using veterans of Hood's Texas Brigade living in the area. After finishing the painting, which was later destroyed in a fire at the Texas State Capitol in 1881, McArdle became interested in the Texas Revolution from conversations he had with the veterans. In the 1880s, he began work on recreating Dawn at the Alamo (completed 1905), as the first version burned in the 1881 fire. At the same time, he also began painting a new work, The Battle of San Jacinto, which was completed in 1895.
In 1901, McArdle painted an alternate version of The Battle of San Jacinto. Commissioned by J.T. DeShields, this later version of the 1895 mural was believed lost by scholars. In his book, Painting Texas History to 1900, Sam Ratcliffe briefly mentions, "a slightly scaled-down (5' x 7') version of San Jacinto, which is unlocated." It remained a mystery until this year when Jon Buell, the artist's great-great grandson, discovered it in the attic of his family's home in West Virginia. Due this astonishing find, we now know that later version of The Battle of San Jacinto is not a study or a copy but an original reimagining of the subject.
When it arrived in Dallas, the painting was sent to two conservators. Infrared pictures, which make it possible to see below the top layer of paint, were taken to see mistakes that McArdle changed later. For example, in this infrared detail the original placement of the flag is visible to the right as a white ghost image. These corrections give insight into the way that he adapted elements from the first version into a new composition. It is extremely dirty, and there are some small holes but the painting can be cleaned and repaired. A very small area was test cleaned so that it is now possible to get an idea of how spectacular the colors, particularly those found in the sky during sunset, will look after conservation. The general conclusion from the experts was that the painting should not be "over conserved." It is in relatively good condition, especially considering its history, and can be restored to its former glory.
The first San Jacinto hangs across the room of the Senate chamber at the Texas State Capitol from McArdle's other mural Dawn at the Alamo. Together these iconic images shape the story of the Texas Revolution. McArdle's treatment of the Battle of San Jacinto subject has been celebrated as one of the most accurate image of the battle ever created. He exhaustively researched the painting, going so far as to survey the battlefield and interview veterans while at the site and through correspondence. With this information he recreated the first San Jacinto in what has been called his 'Topographic' style, in which the viewer gazes down on the chaos of the sprawling battle below.
In contrast, McArdle returned to a more traditional pyramid-shaped composition in the later version of San Jacinto. This approach was the same type of heroic arrangement that he employed in his earlier work, Lee in the Wilderness. For hundreds of years history painters, like John Trumbull and John Singleton Copely, have often favored similar compositions. In them, the most important figures and celebrated moments of the battle are extracted and refined into one idealized moment.
The most celebrated figures from the battle include Sam Houston, Henry W. Karnes, Deaf Smith, Edward Burleson, and Andrew Briscoe from the Texas side and Mexicans Antonio Trevino, Don Moro Esteban, and Don Manual Castrillon. It is not surprising that DeShields, a historian and patron who was passionate about telling the story of Texas Revolution, might commission such a painting. This discovery has allowed us amazing insight into how McArdle and DeShields helped to shape the narrative of the Texas Revolution and create the myth of Texas.
TEXAS AS ART HISTORY
H. A. McARDLE'S SECOND BATTLE OF SAN JACINTO
By Michael Grauer
In the collection of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum is a stirrup with a paper tag attached to it.(1) Printed in ink on the tag is the following inscription:
STIRRUP FOUND BY ANDREW BRISCOE ON SAN JACINTO BATTLEFIELD FOUR HOURS AFTER SANTA ANNA'S SURRENDER. MADE OF BRASS. HANDED DOWN TO P. E. WEST.
Ironically for the purposes of this paper, Andrew Briscoe figures prominently in both the Battle of San Jacinto and in the recently rediscovered painting by H. A. McArdle, The Battle of San Jacinto.
The authenticity of both the stirrup and the painting to the battle itself are matters of interpretation. M. Elizabeth Appleby, Curator, San Jacinto Museum of History, states, "As both sides were often using their own tack and there was incredible diversity in terms of nationality, occupation (when not a soldier) and a variety of other factors, it is difficult for me to determine [whether the stirrup is authentic or not]. We have stirrups from the battle and that time period that have European, American and Mexican origins executed in a variety of metals, from fancy to utilitarian and designed for a range of purposes."(2) In other words, despite 184 years of study and conjecture, some artifacts related to the narrative of the Texas Revolution elude definitive answers.
Likewise with H. A. McArdle's second painting of the Battle of San Jacinto, commissioned by J. T. DeShields, but never (thankfully) delivered. McArdle's canvas eludes definitive answers about its accuracy, despite the artist's exhaustive research and countless "advisors" for this canvas.
What we do know is that this and McArdle's other major paintings of the Texas Revolution-the "other" The Battle of San Jacinto; Dawn at the Alamo; The Settlement of Austin's Colony (The Log Cabin); Ben Milam Calling for Volunteers-and Texas Revolution paintings by R. J. Onderdonk and William H. Huddle, are part of a long tradition of history painting. Moreover, as much as many collectors of early Texas art believe, Texas artists did not work in a vacuum, and Texas art must be considered part of world art history.
Frances Battaile Fisk, writing in the foreword to her foundational book, A History of Texas Artists and Sculptors, sets the stage for Texas's art history:
"...our art history proper, begins during the Era of State, about 1888, with the painting of the Presidents of the Republic of Texas and the Governors of the State, and of vast historical subjects, and of the erection of monuments and statues, as memorials to these pioneer heroes."(3)
Concurrent with McArdle's (and Onderdonk's) efforts to paint "vast historical subjects" of Texas, were efforts by Onderdonk, Huddle, and sculptor Elisabet Ney to paint and sculpt "the Presidents ... and the Governors...." of Texas. Plaster versions of Ney's sculptures of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston were sent to the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, for example.(4) And Huddle's portraits also grace the walls of the Texas Capitol.(5) But given their sheer size, complexity, and Cecil B. DeMille-like grandiosity, McArdle's The Battle of San Jacinto and Dawn at the Alamo have spurred as much comment and discussion as anything in the Capitol.
Sam Ratcliffe, in his seminal study Painting Texas History to 1900, described a second Battle of San Jacinto: "a slightly scaled-down (5' x 7') version of San Jacinto, which is unlocated." (6) This is the painting discovered in West Virginia by Heritage's Atlee Phillips and discussed herein.
But all Texas history paintings had their precedents.
Following the establishment of the republic in 1836, and in spite of pioneer preoccupations, art activity in the Republic of Texas centered on Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. Moreover, Texas art history paralleled that of the United States, moving from east to west. Itinerant portrait painters in the 1830s and 1840s stopped in the main communities to record visages of wealthy or important Texans; artist-explorers or military artists traveled through different parts of Texas beginning in the 1830s or were stationed in various forts in the 1840s; European artists established permanent residence in the 1850s, mainly around San Antonio; and by the 1870s, European- or Eastern-American-trained artists relocated to Texas before native-Texan artists came to the fore around 1900.(7)
Portraitist Thomas Jefferson Wright (1798-1746) painted in Houston, Huntsville, and Nacogdoches by 1837, depicting Juan Seguin, Sam Houston, and other heroes of the Republic. George R. Allen (b. 1830) also painted portraits in the Galveston area until 1858. The yeoman's service of Wright and Allen echoes the work of Colonial portrait painters John Singleton Copley and John Smibert of 50 years earlier in the northeast United States.
Artist-explorers such as George Catlin (1796-1872) set out up the Missouri River in 1832 to paint the "American aborigine" before they disappeared. After painting portraits of Indians near Fort Gibson in Arkansas Territory (near present-day Tulsa, Oklahoma) in the spring of 1834, Catlin (1796-1872) set out with a company of army dragoons heading west. Catlin hoped to encounter "Kioways and Cammanchees" on the Southern Plains (including today's Texas Panhandle) but at the juncture of the Washita and Red Rivers (near present-day Lawton, Oklahoma) he fell ill at a Comanche village. Although he could see Texas on the other side of the Red, he sent an assistant to make sketches. Catlin did finally make it to Texas in the 1850s.
William Tylee Ranney (1813-1857) fought at the Battle of San Jacinto and for his service was given a 320-acre parcel of land in east-central Texas. He lived in Texas only two years but based many of his later paintings on his stay there.
John James Audubon (1785-1851) and his son, John Woodhouse Audubon (1812-1862), traveled to Texas in 1837, stopping at Galveston Island for three weeks, then to Houston, then through Buffalo Bayou and out of Texas. J. W. Audubon returned in 1845 and later traveled up the Rio Grande in 1849.
In 1843, John Mix Stanley (1814-1872) painted Indian councils held in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) and north-central Texas between the United States, recently relocated Indians from the East, and displaced indigenous tribes.
The U. S. Army sent artist Seth Eastman (1808-1875), best known for his paintings of Great Lakes-area Indians, to Fort Martin Scott near Fredericksburg, Texas, in 1848 to render frontier conditions. He later made oil paintings from the sketches he made of San Antonio, Fredericksburg, and along the Pedernales River, giving one of our earliest views of the Alamo. Later, the Army stationed Eastman at Texas forts Duncan and Chadborne.
As a result of the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo ending the Mexican War, in 1851 painter Henry Cheever Pratt (1803-1880) joined John Russell Bartlett (1805-1886) on the survey of the boundary between the United States and Mexico. Pratt made hundreds of sketches, some of which he expanded into oil paintings.
Surveys searching for a suitable route for a transcontinental railroad across the United States in the 1850s resulted in additional images of Texas. Artists such as Heinrich Mollhausen (1825-1905) sketched the landscape and architecture at sights along the various routes, including parts of Texas. These drawings were printed as chromolithographs in the publications of each survey.
Under the Medicine Lodge Treaty (actually three treaties signed in October 1867)(8) the Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Comanche, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes agreed to move to reservations in western Indian Territory.(9) Neither side honored the treaty.
In 1869 President U. S. Grant approved a "peace policy" placing responsibility for the Southwestern tribes under Quaker Indian agents. In spring that year 1869, landscape painter Vincent Colyer (1825-1888) traveled across Indian Territory from Fort Gibson (near today's Tulsa), on assignment from the newly-created Board of Indian Commissioners (BIC), to ascertain conditions among Indians on the Southern Plains and in New Mexico Territory.(10) Colyer's On the Big Canadian River, May 1869, may be the earliest known painting of the Texas Panhandle, and his paintings of western Indian Territory are almost certainly the earliest images after George Catlin's trip through Arkansas Territory in 1834.(11)
Immediately after the Red River War, and still in the interest of science, the U. S. government continued to search for the Red River. In May 1876, Lieutenant Ernest H. Ruffner (1845-1937) led a topographic survey of the headwaters of the Red River in the Texas Panhandle.
After the Civil War, artists crisscrossed the country to make "bird's-eye views" of American cities. These "city portraits," a combination of panorama and map made from an imaginary perspective, promoted both the cities and the artists themselves. Even "landscape and cattle painter" Frank Reaugh (1860-1945) got in on the act of sketching early Texas cities with his views of El Paso painted in 1892. Reaugh became known for his early views of West Texas beginning in 1883 at about the same time German immigrant artist Hermann Lungkwitz (1813-1891) focused on landscapes along the Pedernales River and city views.
But a tradition of history painting in Texas truly begins with McArdle, Huddle, and Onderdonk. And history painting in Texas had a lineage back to Colonial America and to its ancestors in Europe.
Americans John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West, who both became expatriates to England and part of the British Royal Academy culture, paint battle scenes that may have served as templates for McArdle's The Battle of San Jacinto. The principles of the Royal Academy insisted that history painting be as much an intellectual endeavor as an aesthetic adventure. Artists were encouraged-nay, required-to "inform" their historical, mythological, or religious scenes, with references to great works of art from the past. Most British battle paintings included a tragic, dying-and thus heroic-figure at center. Often the pose of this tragic figure was borrowed from sculpture such as the Christ figure in Michelangelo's Pieta or the Roman copy of a Hellentistic Greek sculpture called the Laocoön, or the Christ figure in Peter Paul Rubens's painting, Descent from the Cross. Moreover, foreground figures such as the American Indian in the foreground of West's The Death of General Wolfe, might come from the so-called Belvedere Torso.
This British tradition was carried back to the United States in the work of John Trumbull (1756-1843), who had studied under West. In his The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill and The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, Trumbull "informed" the Warren and Montgomery figures from art historical examples. This writer believes Trumbull's work is one of the key models for McArdle's second San Jacinto.
In addition to British and American antecedents, the French military painting tradition, particularly those paintings of the Napoleonic wars and the French Revolution, also form templates for McArdle's 1901 San Jacinto.
Eugene Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, while allegorical, provides the heroic inspiration for numerous revolutionary images to follow. Antoine-Jean Gros, who painted several scenes of Napoleon, in his Napoleon at the Battle of Eylau, gives McArdle motivation not only for the triumphant victors of San Jacinto, but also provides the horrors of battle in the corpses and dying in the foreground.
Back in the United States, chromolithographs of the Mexican War and the Civil War also offered examples for McArdle. Currier & Ives, the American Lithographic Company, the Century Club, and popular magazines provided imagery for battles readily available to McArdle. Plus, his work as a topographical draughtsman during the Civil War gave him experience few other artists could match.
Finally, the panorama and cyclorama movement in Europe and the United States imparted to McArdle the opportunities presented by large-scale canvases. Either on giant rollers moving past a stationary audience (panorama) or on canvases in the round surrounding the viewer (cyclorama), these epics presage the "moving pictures" on film that would come to the fore about the time of McArdle's second San Jacinto. Cycloramas of the battles of Gettysburg and Atlanta were on public view by 1890 in the Midwest and East, and McArdle may have seen them.
This writer believes McArdle used these precedents to construct his history paintings in art historical terms. His second San Jacinto, for example includes poses borrowed from antiquity such as the so-called Dying Gaul for a wounded figure in the lower left foreground and the Belvedere Torso for the rifleman just left of center in the immediate foreground.
The lesson taken from this could be that early Texas art was not, in fact, created in a vacuum, somehow separated from the traditions of thousands of years of art history. Nor should early Texas be ghettoized from the rest of world art history. Rather early Texas art-including H. A. McArdle's second Battle of San Jacinto-should assume its rightful place in art history as a whole.
Frances Battaile Fisk said it best:
"Without a knowledge of history there can be no patriotism, without a reverence for our pioneer forbears [sic] there can be no respect of the government they have given their lives to build; it is obvious that our early Texas painters and sculptors in memorializing the historic events, which preserve for posterity tangible and inspiring evidence of the bravery of its early defenders, and the men who gave their services and even their lives for the State, have rendered a distinct service to Texas."
This stirrup came from Dan Kilgore, Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1980, along with the rest of his horse-related collection and library. Dan Kilgore (1921-1995) was a Certified Public Accountant and acclaimed amateur historian residing in Corpus Christi. He served as president of the Texas State Historical Association from 1976 to 1977 and was elected a Fellow of the TSHA in 1991. A noted Texana collector whose archival collections are now at Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi, Kilgore also authored How Did Davy Die?: Essays on the American West (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1978), now available in a new commemorative edition with a foreword by James E. Crisp.
M. Elizabeth Appleby, Curator, San Jacinto Museum of History, to Michael R. Grauer, e-mail, 23 April 2010.
Frances Battaile Fisk, A History of Texas Artists & Sculptors,
Marble versions now stand outside the rotunda of the Texas Capitol.
As does Huddle's Surrender of Santa Anna (1886)..
Sam DeShong Ratcliffe, Painting Texas History to 1900. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992): 47.
For a complete study of art in Texas prior to 1900, see Ratcliffe, Painting Texas History to 1900 and Pauline Pinckney, Painting in Texas: The Nineteenth Century (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968).
In October 1865 the United States http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States and the Kiowa http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiowa , Comanche http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comanche , Plains Apache http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plains_Apache , Southern Cheyenne http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Cheyenne , and Southern Arapaho http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arapaho signed a treaty on the Little Arkansas River, Kansas, which became known as the Little Arkansas Treaty. The white representatives wanted peace, unmolested traffic on the Santa Fe trail and limitation of Indian territory. The Indians demanded unrestricted hunting grounds and reparation for the Sand Creek Massacre. Treaties made here gave the Indians reservations south of the Arkansas, excluded them north to the Platte and proclaimed peace. Several white captives were released, among them a woman and four children from Texas, the Box family, taken by a war party under Satanta.
The tribes would be provided rations, houses, barns, and schools. Additionally, the tribes were to be permitted to continue to hunt buffalo if they stayed away from white settlements and roads. White buffalo hunters were not permitted to hunt below the Arkansas
Later, he traveled to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska on a similar assignment.
Due to illness, Catlin never crossed the Red River into Texas.
(1)This stirrup came from Dan Kilgore, Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1980, along with the rest of his horse-related collection and library. Dan Kilgore (1921-1995) was a Certified Public Accountant and acclaimed amateur historian residing in Corpus Christi. He served as president of the Texas State Historical Association from 1976 to 1977 and was elected a Fellow of the TSHA in 1991. A noted Texana collector whose archival collections are now at Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi, Kilgore also authored How Did Davy Die?: Essays on the American West (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1978), now available in a new commemorative edition with a foreword by James E. Crisp.
(2)M. Elizabeth Appleby, Curator, San Jacinto Museum of History, to Michael R. Grauer, e-mail, 23 April 2010.
(3)Frances Battaile Fisk, A History of Texas Artists & Sculptors,
(4)Marble versions now stand outside the rotunda of the Texas Capitol.
(5)As does Huddle's Surrender of Santa Anna (1886)..
(6)Sam DeShong Ratcliffe, Painting Texas History to 1900. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992): 47.
(7)For a complete study of art in Texas prior to 1900, see Ratcliffe, Painting Texas History to 1900 and Pauline Pinckney, Painting in Texas: The Nineteenth Century (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968).
(8)In October 1865 the United States http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States and the Kiowa http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiowa , Comanche http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comanche , Plains Apache http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plains_Apache , Southern Cheyenne http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Cheyenne , and Southern Arapaho http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arapaho signed a treaty on the Little Arkansas River, Kansas, which became known as the Little Arkansas Treaty. The white representatives wanted peace, unmolested traffic on the Santa Fe trail and limitation of Indian territory. The Indians demanded unrestricted hunting grounds and reparation for the Sand Creek Massacre. Treaties made here gave the Indians reservations south of the Arkansas, excluded them north to the Platte and proclaimed peace. Several white captives were released, among them a woman and four children from Texas, the Box family, taken by a war party under Satanta.
(9)The tribes would be provided rations, houses, barns, and schools. Additionally, the tribes were to be permitted to continue to hunt buffalo if they stayed away from white settlements and roads. White buffalo hunters were not permitted to hunt below the Arkansas
(10)Later, he traveled to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska on a similar assignment.
(11)Due to illness, Catlin never crossed the Red River into Texas.
Henry McArdle and the Quest for "Pictorial History"
By Sam Ratcliffe, author of Painting Texas History to 1900
In recalling the method of composition for his 1872 painting, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, British artist Thomas Moran admitted that he "place[d] no value upon literal transcripts from Nature" but instead strived to "convey its true impression." The artist went on to explain how he altered the position of the rocks, canyon walls, and the waterfall itself in his canvas to be "strictly true to pictorial Nature," creating a fictional scene that proved so convincing that "every member of the expedition with which I was connected declared that he knew the exact spot that had been produced."(1) Similarly, Henry McArdle contended that he "aimed at natural action and historic truth" or, to adapt Moran's terminology, "pictorial history" in his approach to painting The Battle of San Jacinto and other works.(2) McArdle, a native of Ireland, had immigrated to Baltimore with an aunt at the age of fifteen and studied at the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts, graduating in 1860. He put his artistic abilities to use for the Confederate Army, including serving as one of the topographical artists on the staff of General Robert E. Lee. Following the war, he took a position on the art faculty of Baylor Female College in Independence, Texas, in 1867. While painting portraits of veterans of the Texas Revolution and the Civil War, McArdle became intrigued by their stories of Texas history.(3)
McArdle depicted the results of Santa Anna's encounter with Houston's "respectable" amount of troops in The Battle of San Jacinto (1895). As did his rival William Huddle, McArdle journeyed to the battlefield but, due to the wider scope of his subject, conducted far more detailed research. This required several excursions and included measuring and photographing all areas of the battlefield, citing the positions of individual units, and drawing up diagrams and models of the battle. He consulted published reports of the battle by Sam Houston and Mexican Army Colonel Pedro Delgado. As he had done for Dawn at the Alamo, he sought out former Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard as well as U.S. Army General O.O. Howard for details regarding the flags, military fortifications, uniforms, and weaponry of both armies. Ultimately, though, McArdle's most fruitful sources of detailed information proved to be San Jacinto veterans and the families of the deceased members of the Texan army, who supplied photographs of these men. Indeed, a key motivation for McArdle's timing of work on this painting-which meant interrupting revision of Dawn at the Alamo-was the opportunity to interview and correspond with veterans and their families in order to be able to execute the canvas in their lifetimes. And the large number of survivors of San Jacinto ensured that he would be bombarded with many more opinions than he could incorporate in his rendering of the battle. In addition to the advancing age of the San Jacinto veterans, the Texas legislature's 1888 purchase of Huddle's The Surrender of Santa Anna seems to have prodded McArdle into beginning work on The Battle of San Jacinto, just as Onderdonk might have sped completion of Dawn at the Alamo a few years later. With very few exceptions, McArdle began gathering research material shortly after the completion of Huddle's painting in 1886, and this research activity increased markedly after 1888.(4)
McArdle initially intended to pattern the painting after one of several renderings of the Mexican War's battle of Chapultepec but The Battle of San Jacinto owes more to his first attempt at battle painting, Lee at the Wilderness (circa 1873), which burned in the same Capitol fire that destroyed the original version of Dawn at the Alamo. McArdle began work on this painting soon after moving to Texas and meeting veterans of Hood's Texas Brigade. This incident had become famous for the action of a few members of the unit in restraining Lee from leading their charge on a Union position at a critical point in the battle, the Texans shouting "Lee to the rear" until their commander-in-chief relented in his determination. In addition to utilizing photographs to supplement his personal knowledge of the facial features of Texas veterans of the battle, McArdle employed some of these men as studio models in executing preliminary sketches of the scene.(5)
One characteristic common to Lee at the Wilderness and The Battle of San Jacinto is that McArdle repainted each work for a patron. Although all of the circumstances surrounding execution of both of these repainted canvases are unclear, the artist's chronic financial straits seemed to have motivated him in each case. In 1901, DeShields paid McArdle $400.00 for this newly discovered version of The Battle of San Jacinto. Several years after Lee at the Wilderness was destroyed, McArdle painted a smaller, cropped version. This work was in payment for a long-standing debt that McArdle owed to a pioneer Texas physician who often had furnished him with painting supplies.(6)
In visually narrating both events, McArdle employed fire, smoke, and meteorological elements to impart a dramatic, near-mystical atmosphere to a critical historical moment. As in Dawn at the Alamo and The Battle of San Jacinto, several of the figures in Lee at the Wilderness have distorted proportion and perspective. For example, in the right foreground, a wounded Confederate soldier reaches for a canteen beside the head of a dead comrade. The size and placement of these two figures do not harmonize with those in the rest of the painting but appear to be included primarily for melodramatic effect.
In a typical public reaction to Lee at the Wilderness, one reviewer noted that the "unity" of this "breathing canvas" caused the viewer to take in the entire scene as a single effect rather than concentrate on any single aspect of it."(7) While such acclaim delighted McArdle, he was most concerned with the reaction of one particular group, the Hood's Texas Brigade Association. McArdle hoped to sell Lee at the Wilderness to the Association, but its members were unable to raise sufficient funds. In an attempt to sell the painting to the state, McArdle loaned it to the Capitol, only to have it destroyed.(8)
Despite their similarities, Lee at the Wilderness was a less ambitious undertaking than The Battle of San Jacinto. Instead of a sprawl of detailed vignettes of equal importance, Lee at the Wilderness has the heroism of the Confederate commander and the devotion of his men as its central focus. By contrast, McArdle's portrayal of Sam Houston attempted to strike a balance between a Jacksonian "man of the people" and his personal bravery under fire. In response to urgings by San Jacinto veteran William Taylor, he depicted Houston as attempting to continue to lead the Texan charge after having had his horse shot from under him and his right ankle shattered by a musket ball. This accurate depiction meshed nicely with attempts by Taylor and others to clear Houston's name of charges by political rivals that he had dodged the area of heaviest combat and fiercest fighting. In the center left portion of the canvas, beside a Mexican battery, the Texan commander waves his white planter's hat as he prepares to lead his men afoot against a small band of riflemen forming behind Mexican General Manuel Fernandez Castrillon. In a vignette reminiscent of the central portion of Lee at the Wilderness, Houston's unarmed aide, disregarding his own safety, leads a horse to his commander.(9)
McArdle also depicted Deaf Smith, mounted and armed with a sword, dispatching a Mexican officer identified as Don Esteban Mora. Behind Smith, Henry Karnes aims a pistol at Antonio Trevino as Don Dian Cos cries out for help. To the rear of Houston, Secretary of War Thomas J. Rusk directs troops with his sword from the back of a chestnut horse. In the painting's lower left foreground, two figures function as a human signpost by which the viewer can take his bearings in reading this portion of the painting. To the left of center, Andrew Briscoe, gazing directly at the viewer, brandishes a sword in an attitude of leading the Texan right against the Mexican breastworks. Behind and to the left of Briscoe, Colonel Edward Burleson, firing his pistol while trying to remain mounted on his rearing sorrel, leads the First Regiment. But below and slightly to the right of Santa Anna, Colonel Manuel Romero seems to capture best the essence of the battle. Arms upraised and waving his sword, the Mexican officer attempts futilely to rally soldiers who are already breaking and running towards the rear.
In contrast to Houston, Santa Anna, in the painting's upper right portion, mounted on a black horse and wearing a white sombrero, flees the battlefield. A brown mule, trailing a rope from his neck, races behind him while a black mule kicks his hind legs into the air before the fleeing "Napoleon of the West." McArdle explained that he had included this prosaic vignette to demonstrate that "even [Santa Anna's] mules have lost respect for him."(10) But McArdle's depictions of Mexican combatants also included a number of portrayals of courage. For example, Reuben Potter designated Captain Juan Seguin's small force of Tejanos as "the only contingent of native Texans," and other prominent Texans asked McArdle to emphasize this detachment's heroism.(11) Potter, while terming San Jacinto one of the most important battles of history, also described it as one "in which the effective valor was all on one side and the slaughter, wrought mainly in pursuit, was almost wholly on the other."(12) Hints of this even-handedness had appeared in Potter's earliest advice for Dawn at the Alamo, such as his assertion that the "bravest attacks" on the morning of March 6 demonstrated the valor of the Mexican soldiers.(13) In writing about San Jacinto, Potter elaborated on this theme. He lauded the initial composure of many of the Mexican troops at San Jacinto and went on to note that they had plundered the countryside far less than had the Texans during the preceding six weeks.(14) Although McArdle began extensive research on the painting after Potter's death, he followed closely his late advisor's account. The artist described several Mexican combatants as "brave," "chivalrous," and "gallant."(15) Many Texans were especially sympathetic towards Castrillon, whom they regarded as an elderly, noble warrior who was shot down by Texas soldiers even after their commanding officers ordered them not to fire on the Mexican general.
Referring to his use of several diagrams of the battlefield, McArdle admitted that the painting is "not a slavish transcript of the model-though the strongest (?) realism is preserved." The question mark raises an interesting point: was the artist simply not sure whether he was using the most appropriate word or was he questioning the realism of the painting?(16) He points out that the work is "too intricate in detail for an entirely satisfactory description."(17) Again, does this express a desire not to bore the reader or is he searching for a way to avoid criticism from San Jacinto veterans who might find fault with his artistic conception of the battle? His description also mentions the painting's "wealth of episode" and "that eternal variety and change demanded by a natural presentation."(18)
McArdle's fear is understandable in light of historical controversies concerning the battle, such as that concerning Houston. One San Jacinto veteran, J.N. Hill, who furnished the artist with a great deal of information, also pointed out McArdle's artistic liberty in portraying the battle as having occurred near sunset. McArdle was especially sensitive to such criticism because many veterans had subscribed funds for completion of the painting, which was repeatedly delayed. Ultimately, though, a number of veterans-some of whom he had met while working on Lee at the Wilderness and Dawn at the Alamo-rewarded the artist with official endorsements of the truthfulness of the painting.(19)
McArdle's goal was to portray the larger forces and, indeed, the emotions at work at the Alamo and San Jacinto battles. He used numbered pictures and lettered diagrams to bring his audience to an awareness and appreciation of the "grand sweep" and unfolding of specific historical events. In a fifteen-page description of The Battle of San Jacinto, written on State Senate stationery, McArdle lays out in explicit fashion both the technical aspects of the painting and the effects he was trying to achieve. Although this description is not dated, it was likely written around 1901 when, hopeful that the Legislature would appropriate money for the purchase of this and others of his paintings, McArdle received permission to hang San Jacinto in the Senate chamber. In the description, he declares to his audience that, despite its mass of detail, the painting's "unity has never been lost sight of [sic]."(20) The unifying element is, of course, the bravery shown by soldiers of both sides in the several discrete and simultaneous incidents.
Even the use of light in the painting was designed to heighten the sense of mingled sacrifice and triumph. In the description, McArdle was careful to situate the viewer on an elevation facing northeastward across the battlefield, looking away from the setting sun. After explaining the position of the painting to the viewer, his first observation was to indicate that the shadows of sunset "add to the dramatic effect of the death-grapple" and convey "intense and graphic power ... softened by poetic fervour."(21) The final section of this description of the painting was entitled "Freedom's Light: Triumph of Texas' Independence (The aspect of the Heavens)!" and provides a fitting conclusion to our discussion of it today:
Dark, inauspicious, and threatening clouds which overspread the heavens are suggestive of the suffering, danger, and death under which Texas had struggled...last rays of the setting sun break through the gloom, typical of the light and freedom and victory which is to be the result of the Texan victory at San Jacinto.(22)
(1)Quoted in Robert Taft, Artists and Illustrators of the Old West (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950), p. 250. For an extensive discussion of the composition of this work as well as of Moran's other experiences in Yellowstone and his aesthetic approach to watercolor painting, see Carol Clark, Thomas Moran: Watercolors of the American West (Austin: University of Texas Press for the Amon Carter Museum, 1980), pp. 11-35; John C. Ewers, Artists of the Old West (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1965), pp. 194-197; and William H. and William N. Goetzmann, The West of the Imagination (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1986), pp. 176-178.
(2)"McArdle Companion Battle Paintings. Historical Documents, II: Battle of San Jacinto," Texas State Archives, p. 90 (hereafter cited as "McArdle Companion II").
(3)McArdle to James T. DeShields, "'Log Cabin' Picture," pp. 2-3, n.d. (ca. December 1900), Box 5, File 144, James T. DeShields Collection, Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo, San Antonio (hereafter cited as JTD-DRT). See also McArdle to Governor Lawrence Sullivan Ross, 6 August 1888, quoted in James M. Day, ed., "Texas Letters and Documents," in Texana 8:3 (Waco: Texian Press, 1970), p. 300. In this letter, the artist states that he had begun work on studies of these subjects twenty years earlier.
(4)See "List of Contributors," "McArdle Companion II", p. 90 and David A. Woodward to McArdle, 20 October 1890, p. 33. Veterans' correspondence is found in pp. 124-151, 156, 168-173, and 262.
(5)See Dayton Kelley, "Search Turns Up Copy of Texas Artist's Work," Dallas Morning News, 4 March 1965 and McArdle to Beauregard, 13 May 1892, "McArdle Companion II," p. 175.
(6)See DeShields, "List of Paintings," 25 July 1904, box 5, file 142, JTD-DRT. Ruskin McArdle unsuccessfully mounted emotional attempts to purchase both canvases from their owners. See Ruskin McArdle to DeShields, 12 December 1928, box 5, file 145, JTD-DRT.
(7)McArdle, "Brief Description or Reading of the Painting."
(8)See Austin Daily Democratic Statesman, 27, 28, and 29 June 1873; 6 July 1873; and 16 October 1877. Also see "Hard Luck Artist," Houston Post, 27 March 1949.
(9)Taylor to McArdle, 8 March 1886, "McArdle Companion II," p. 1l7. Reuben Potter details the controversy concerning Houston in "The Battle of San Jacinto," in Magazine of American History 4 (May 1880), pp. 322-328.
(10)See Taylor to McArdle, 8 March 1886, and "McArdle, "Brief Description or Reading of the Painting."
(11)Potter, "The Battle of San Jacinto," pp. 339, 346. Legendary Texas Ranger John S. "Rip" Ford also urged McArdle to feature prominently Captain Antonio Manchaca of Seguin's command (which he did), claiming that it would win friends for the artist in San Antonio, Manchaca's place of residence. See Ford to McArdle, 1 June 1893, "McArdle Companion II," p. 254.
(12)Potter, "The Battle of San Jacinto," p. 321.
(13)Potter to McArdle, 13 August 1874, "McArdle Companion I," p. 22.
(14)Potter, "The Battle of San Jacinto," pp. 339, 346.
(15)"McArdle Companion II," pp. 236, 240.
(16)"Description of the Painting," in "McArdle Companion II," p. 13.
(19)Twelve veterans of the battle signed a document attesting to the painting's accuracy during a Texas Veterans Association San Jacinto Day Reunion, 21 April 1891. McArdle recorded names of supporters and their subscription amounts, ranging from $10.00 to $150.00, in his "List of Contributors." For veterans' criticisms, see Taylor to McArdle, 8 March 1886 and Hill to McArdle, 20 October 1895, "McArdle Companion II."
(20)"Description of the Painting," in "McArdle Companion Battle Paintings, The Battle of San Jacinto," p. 13.
Please call Atlee Phillips for a more detailed conservation report. Scattered frame abrasions on all four edges with paintloss; scattered areas of paintloss throughout; stretcher creases visible; three punctures to canvas along right edge, most notable a 1 x 3" puncture; area of flaking with paintloss along left edge with puncture slightly below. Not framed.
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