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Physician’s Quarters at Fort Davis in the 1850s

By One of the Earliest Trained Artists to Work in Texas

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253.     LEE, A[rthur] T[racy]. House Occupied by Dr. Sutherland at Ft. Davis. Finished watercolor on paper showing a one-story house surrounded by a fence and outbuildings at the foot of a rocky hill, several people are visible around the house and in the yard to the right, the U.S. flag is flying in the distance, all set in a mountainous landscape. Signed in lower right in pencil: "A.T. Lee." Fort Davis, undated [ca. 1857]. 23 x 32 cm. Accompanied by a slip of contemporary paper providing the title and stating the painting was found among General Johnston’s papers. The painting is affixed to nineteenth-century scrap book leaf on the verso of which are pasted newspaper articles relating to the death of General Joseph E. Johnston and a 1912 printed invitation to the unveiling of a monument to honor Johnston. Except for small cracks at upper right corner and a few short marginal tears (none resulting in image loss), fine condition.

     See preceding entry for more details on Fort Davis, the artist, etc. The building depicted in this painting was apparently in existence by 1857 and was occupied by Army Surgeon Charles Sutherland (1829-1895), who was stationed at the post from 1860 until it was abandoned at the beginning of the Civil War.

     Early Texas art from the 1820s through the 1850s by trained artists, is exceedingly difficult to find, both privately and institutionally. Catlin (Item 102 herein), Peale, and Seymour made short forays into Texas as part of larger expeditions to the West. Berlandier and Sánchez y Tapia (see Items 39-41 herein) created images of flora, fauna, and Native Americans for an 1827 Mexican Commission. Audubon’s incredible birds and quadrupeds offer splendid images of Texas subjects at an early stage (Item 19 et seq). Samuel Chamberlin left some primitive and penetrating images of Texas from his drawings and watercolor sketches based his earlier memories of the Mexican-American War campaigns in 1846. Ranney’s later art is thought to reflect in part his earlier experiences in Texas (Item 484). Following the political upheavals in Europe in the mid- to late-1840s, the Big Four of European Emigrants Artists of Texas—Gentilz, Petri, Iwonski, and Lungkwitz (Item 197 herein)—arrived in Texas and created an environment conducive to the creation of art in Texas.

     Lee’s excellent watercolors are of a different type of early Texas art, created in conjunction with U.S. Army and exploration expeditions, such as Edward Everett’s art work of the Alamo and San Antonio (see Item 5 herein). Lee made the present painting and the one preceding as part of his participation in federal fort-building activities in the remote reaches of Texas in the 1850s. As noted below, Lee was enchanted with the Fort Davis region in the Trans-Pecos at the eastern base of the Davis Mountains on Limpia Creek. Lee described the area as "beautiful beyond description," and has faithfully captured and recorded what he saw in this painting. Handbook of Texas Online:

Arthur Tracy Lee (1814–1879) painter and United States Army officer, was born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, in 1814 and studied art in Philadelphia as a youth, reportedly under Thomas Sully. On October 8, 1838, through the influence of Simon Cameron, later secretary of war in the Lincoln administration, Lee was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Fifth United States Infantry. On November 1 of the same year he transferred to the Eighth United States Infantry. He was stationed for a time on the Saint Lawrence River but in 1840 assisted in the removal of the Winnebago Indians from Wisconsin. He was promoted to first lieutenant on March 4, 1845, and to captain on January 27, 1848. After service against the Seminole Indians in Florida, Lee’s regiment was placed under the command of Gen. Zachary Taylor and transferred to Texas in September 1845 with the "Army of Occupation." At the outbreak of the Mexican War, Lee was given command of a company of the Eighth Infantry that he commanded at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. After receiving a brevet promotion to captain, he was detached on recruiting duty at Rochester, New York, from September 1846 through July 1848. During the late summer and fall of 1848 he once more was involved with Winnebago removal, this time from Minnesota.

Late in 1848 he returned to his regiment in Texas as commander of Company C. He remained in the state for twelve years, at Fort Croghan, the building of which he supervised, and then at Fort Martin Scott, Fort Graham, Fort Mason, Fort Chadbourne, Ringgold Barracks, and Fort Davis. Twice during this period he was placed under arrest, presumably due to misunderstandings with his superior officers. In October 1854 he helped to establish Fort Davis in a location in Jeff Davis county that he described as "beautiful beyond description." After serving as temporary commander there, Lee was sent with two companies of the Eighth, in September 1858, to establish Fort Quitman, some 120 miles to the west. After that duty he served briefly in the so-called "Cortina War" at Fort Brown.

In addition to his capabilities as a soldier, Lee was a talented painter in oils, a poet, a musician, an essayist, a historian, a landscape architect, an engineer, and an administrator. He is best remembered for his watercolors. Of his 154 extant paintings, all but two are in this medium, and at least thirty are of Texas scenes. These include views of the Rio Grande, Brazos, and Guadalupe rivers; San Antonio, Rio Grande City, and Brownsville; and forts Croghan and Davis and their environs.

Lee’s company was stationed at Fort Stockton when news of Texas secession came. Marching for the coast by way of Fort Clark and San Antonio, Lee and his company were intercepted in San Antonio on April 21, 1861, and Lee, although himself a slave owner, was placed under arrest and released on parole. He was appointed major of the Second Infantry on October 26, 1861, but could not do active duty without violating the parole that he had been given in San Antonio. Exchanged at last, he saw service with the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War and received a promotion to brevet lieutenant colonel "for gallant and meritorious conduct" at the battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, where he was seriously wounded in the right ankle and hip. Lee retired from active duty on January 20, 1865, but on July 28, 1866, received a retroactive promotion to the rank of colonel. From 1867 through 1872 he served as deputy governor and then governor of the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, D.C., a position of considerable social importance. In 1871 he published two literary works, Army Ballads and Other Poems and, in the History of the Eighth U.S. Infantry, "Reminiscences of the Regiment."


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

Auction 22 Abstracts

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