Sunday, March 28, 2010
Deadline for entry is April 18, 2010
One of the most important paintings in Texas history has turned up in a West Virginia attic.
For generations, art historians have looked for The Battle of San Jacinto, a smaller 1901 version of a showpiece 1898 mural in the Texas Capitol, painted from survivors' stories by San Antonio artist H.A. McArdle.
A Dallas auction house will sell the San Jacinto painting in November after one of the artist's grandchildren found it in a family attic in a northern West Virginia town.
"This is a stunning discovery," said historian Sam Ratcliffe, author of the book Painting Texas History to 1900 and head of special collections in the Hamon Arts Library at Southern Methodist University.
"This is a painting of one of the most significant battles in North American history, by the most visionary painter in Texas history," Ratcliffe said.
Irish-born art professor and artist Harry McArdle -- originally, Henry -- interviewed hundreds of survivors to paint both San Jacinto and his other definitive mural in the Texas Capitol, Dawn at the Alamo.
McArdle agreed to paint the smaller version of San Jacinto for $400, according to Ratcliffe.
His book describes the work as "unlocated."
Apparently, it was unlocated only because McArdle never got paid for the painting and his family kept it.
The family found it and contacted Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, where Texas Art Director Atlee Phillips was leery at first.
Then she reread Ratcliffe's book and saw the reference to the missing San Jacinto.
"I saw the word unlocated, and it gave me chills," she said last week. "This is the lost version of the mural."
Heritage has just retrieved the painting and is planning a formal announcement, she said. She's telling art groups and historical societies that Texas has found another piece of history.
Heritage will suggest a price of $100,000 to $200,000, she said.
The 5-by-7-foot artwork depicts Texas' climactic victory over Mexico in vivid detail, including such figures as Texas Capt. Henry W. Karnes, tugging a coonskin cap, and Mexican Gen. Manuel Fernandez Castrillon, admired by the Texans for his valor.
McArdle's works are noted for including both Anglo and Hispanic Texans, particularly the Spanish-speaking Texas heroes led by Texas Gen. Juan Seguin.
McArdle never saw a dime for either San Jacinto painting.
He was 72 when he died in 1908 in San Antonio. It would be nearly 20 years before the Texas Legislature would pay his family $25,000 for the murals in the Capitol.
According to Ratcliffe's book, one state senator told McArdle's son that the state could just buy big photographs cheaper.
More than a century later, his family will finally earn what he deserved for San Jacinto.
Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538