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Early Original Watercolor of Old Fort Davis By Arthur T. Lee

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252.     LEE, A[rthur] T[racy]. Capt. Jordan’s Quarters. Finished watercolor on paper showing a small wooden cabin at the base of a hill with a ramshackle fence in the foreground and other buildings and rocky hills in the background. Several figures populate the view. Signed at lower right in pencil: “A.T. Lee.” Fort Davis, undated. 24 x 32 cm. Accompanied by a slip of paper explaining that the painting was among General Johnston’s papers and that he apparently gave it the title quoted above. Affixed to a nineteenth-century scrapbook leaf on the verso is pasted a contemporary oval portrait of General Joseph E. Johnston (20.2 x 15.5 cm) with imprint and title: “Published by S.C. McIntyre. Genl. Joseph E. Johnson [sic]. C.S.A. Copy right secured” (portrait fine except for a few spots). Lower left corner chipped, a few closed tears (no losses), some light spotting, edges slightly darkened, otherwise very good.

     This painting depicts a building at the first Fort Davis, established in 1854 and in existence until 1862, when it was occupied by Confederate forces. The original fort was an important outpost for protecting emigrant trains on their way to California and other points west and for defending the area against hostile Native Americans. Fort Davis fell into complete disrepair and was replaced by a second, larger Fort Davis after the Civil War (1867). The building depicted in this painting was apparently in existence by 1857 and was occupied by Captain Charles Downer Jordan (d. 1876), who was stationed at the post from 1860 until it was abandoned at the beginning of the Civil War. Artist Arthur T. Lee was also stationed at Fort Davis, which he helped found, between 1854 and September of 1858, when he left to establish Fort Quitman.

     Arthur T. Lee (1814-1879) was a U.S. Army officer, portrait painter in oils, watercolorist, poet, musician, essayist, historian, landscape architect, engineer, and administrator. He was stationed at various posts in Texas for about twelve years after having previously served in the Mexican-American War and various Native American removals. He was transferred to Texas in 1848 and was captured by the Confederates in San Antonio while trying to leave Texas. He went to fight in the Civil War and was seriously wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. It is believed that many of his watercolors were finished in his retirement and were based on pencil sketches he made earlier on the scene. Although it is uncertain how this watercolor ended up in the possession of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, it seems possible that Lee might have met Johnston on the latter’s 1849 reconnaissance mission through western Texas, which passed through old Fort Davis.

     This is an excellent example of an early Texas view rendered by an accomplished, eyewitness artist who was there when Fort Davis was founded. In 1961, the majority of Arthur T. Lee’s paintings and art work were bequeathed by his sole descendant to three institutions in Rochester, New York: The Rochester Historical Society, the Rush Rhees Library of the University of Rochester, and the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Thus, Lee’s art work is not generally available on the market, except as in this case, when it comes from a non-family source. For a good selection of Lee’s art work in the Rochester institutions, consult: W. Stephen Thomas, Fort Davis and the Texas Frontier: Paintings by Captain Arthur T. Lee, Eighth U.S. Infantry (College Station: Published for the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, by the Texas A&M University Press, 1977).

     For more on Lee, see: Goetzmann & Reese, Texas Images & Visions, pp. 20-22: “Captain Arthur T. Lee…made charming watercolor sketches of the remote environs of Fort Davis in far Western Texas…. The watercolors of Captain Lee at Fort Davis have only come to light in recent years”; p. 52: “Arthur T. Lee and Seth Eastman were sent by the United States government to Texas in the same years and for the same purpose-charting the Texas-Mexico boundary. Lee was thirty-four years old when he arrived at this first Texas post [and commented]: ‘the frontier was real, daily existence was precarious, Indians were a living threat.’” Sam DeShong Ratliffe, Painting Texas History to 1900 (University of Texas Press, 1992), pp. 71-72: “[Lee’s] watercolors were composed as landscapes; the Fort Davis scenes are also historical narrative paintings, depicting work and leisure activities of civilians as well as soldiers.” Lee is not listed by Taft or Samuels, but that is probably due to Lee’s work only coming to light with the publication of the Lee images in the Rochester Museum in the 1976 publication Fort Davis and the Texas Frontier: Paintings by Captain Arthur T. Lee, Eighth U.S. Infantry. See Handbook of Texas Online: Arthur Tracy Lee.


Sold. Hammer: $10,000.00; Price Realized: $12,000.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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