A discovered McClellan painting

Meandering through Ellicott City (MD) this afternoon, I popped into Joe Parr's Historic Framing and Collectibles shop, where in the back he had a magnificent McClellan painting encased in a wide gilded frame. Most but not all of the picture is in this detail. Click to enlarge.

You see here the result of a $100 flatbed reading a photo printed from a slide, so the colors are washed out - especially the tents in the background.

Joe spent $2,500 restoring the piece with an expert who dated it 1860-1880. My quick and dirty reading of the piece puts it early on that scale. It has many naive touches where the artist ran out of technique. Perspective in particular is charming, with the tents looming like mountains.

For instance, look at this circa 1841 mother and child (right). There's a genius at work here (click to enlarge), but it's not technical. Compare it to this sophisticated 1888 McClellan by Julian Scott, now in the National Portrait Gallery.

Not all the earlier portraiture is naive - Christian Schussele's famous 1862 equestrian portrait is brimming with European mastery. But a great deal of the idiosyncratic art dates earlier.

Here's a famous image - also 1862 - from our late friend Brian Pohanka's collection of mcClellan images. Again, the depth is delightfully two-dimensional.

And here's one more from '62 (right). What it adds on the technique side of the ledger, it subtracts on the idiosyncratic . What gang signal is GBM making with his hand? Who is the rotund planter? Why is there a prominent heavy chap in the background?

But back to Joe's painting. It's large, at least 5' x 4' and some inches. It engages us at 3/4 scale.

The horse, Joe says, is Arabian. It does not resemble Dan Webster, so I wonder if this is Kentuck or some fantasy beast.

The painter took some care with GBM's hair color. Note, however, he's been given a third star. Now, the third star can mystically represent Mac's standing in for Scott. However, that would be asynchronous if this is a Maryland Campaign setting at which time Halleck is standing in for Scott.

Joe thinks the picture depicts September 13, 1862. GBM may be holding the Lost Order in his left hand, scribbling orders with his right, his eyes envisioning Lee's dispositions . I agree with this analysis.

The painting was rescued from an above-the-fireplace location in what appears to have been a private New York veteran's club. This location argues for a postwar commissioning.

If you have any insights on this piece you can write Joe an email - Histfram at aol.com. If you are in the neighborhood, he is at 8344 Main Street conveniently located between two bars and a wine shop.

And if you buy the thing, drop me a line so I can buy it from you when you tire of it.