CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Lost for more than a century, a famous painting of a pivotal battle scene in the Texas revolution has been found in the attic of a Weston banker's home. Next month, it will be sold in a Dallas auction, where it is expected to fetch at least $100,000.
The painting, the work of Irish-born artist H.A. McArdle, depicts the April 21, 1836 Battle of San Jacinto, in which 800 Texas soldiers led by Sam Houston surprised and defeated a Mexican army nearly twice as large led by Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
A much larger McArdle depiction of the battle, completed in 1898, can be found in the Senate chamber of the Texas Capitol in Austin. It is a painstakingly researched mural, painted after McArdle visited the Galveston-area battlefield, conducted interviews with combatants, studied photographs and paintings of participants, and documented the types of uniforms and equipment used.
Another McArdle mural, "Dawn at the Alamo," also hangs in the Senate chamber, while "The Settlement of Austin's Colony" is on display in the chamber of the Texas House of Representatives.
McArdle arrived in America in 1850 at the age of 14, following the death of his parents. He emigrated from Belfast with an aunt, and initially settled in Baltimore, where he studied at the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of Mechanical Arts.
During the Civil War, he was a draftsman for the Confederate navy, and later made topographical maps for Gen. Robert E. Lee. After the war, he moved to Texas, where he worked with veterans of Hood's Texas Brigade to complete "Lee at the Wilderness," a historical canvas, in 1872. Both "Lee at the Wilderness" and the original version of "Dawn at the Alamo" burned in an 1881 statehouse fire.
Texas art patron J.T. DeShields commissioned a smaller painting depicting the Battle of San Jacinto in 1901 for the sum of $400. But after DeShields apparently failed to produce the sum when the five-foot by seven-foot painting was complete, McArdle kept the artwork. Its existence faded into obscurity and its whereabouts remained unknown until recently.
McArdle died in San Antonio in 1908, without receiving payment for any of his Statehouse paintings, let alone the work commissioned by DeShields. Twenty years after his death, the Texas Legislature authorized payment of $25,000 to his heirs for "The Battle of San Jacinto" and for a second "Dawn at the Alamo" completed in 1905.
After his death, McArdle's widow, the former Isophene Lacy Dunnington, with whom he reared a daughter and four sons, returned to her native West Virginia.
The artist's and his wife's West Virginia descendants included George and Betty Bland of Weston. George Bland, who died recently, was the retired CEO of Citizens Bank in Weston and a prolific artist in his own right.
"After my grandfather (George Bland) had gotten sick, we were visiting his house on Main Street," said Jon Buell of Sterling, Va. "One day, I was poking around the third floor of the house, and I came across this painting. I asked my grandmother about it, and she said, "It's been in the attic since the 1930s. Your great-great-grandfather painted it."
Buell said his grandmother told him about the huge mural his great-great-grandfather had painted of the Battle of San Jacinto, and said that the painting was still on display in the Texas Statehouse, along with "Dawn at the Alamo."
"I vaguely remember seeing the painting, but never in the light of day in all the years I lived in that house," said Buell's mother, and the Blands' daughter, Lynn Bland Buell.
While his grandparents didn't believe there was anything particularly exceptional about the McArdle work collecting dust in their attic, Buell wasn't so sure.
"I started contacting people in Texas art museums to tell them about the painting in the attic," he said. "People didn't seem to understand or believe what we had. Some of them said it was nice we had a McArdle painting, but that was about it, until I contacted Heritage Auctions in Dallas."