Jon Buell, a descendant of the painter Henry Arthur McArdle contacted Heritage Auctions in January with a query: He’d found a dusty old painting in his grandmother’s attic in West Virginia that might be of some interest. That’s because Henry McArdle, around the turn of the previous century, was the artist behind the two giant paintings that hang in the Texas House and the Texas Senate: “Dawn at the Alamo” and “The Battle of San Jacinto.” Every schoolchild who’s ever visited the Texas State Capitol has stared up in awe at those violent, figure-crowded, epic depictions of the Texas Revolution.
What Jon Buell had uncovered was a second version of “The Battle of San Jacinto” — a painting that McArdle had done for Dallas patron J. T. DeShields in 1901. DeShields couldn’t pay him the full, agreed-upon price, so McArdle kept the painting, and his took it with her to West Virginia after her husband’s death in 1908. Heritage is auctioning the painter Nov. 20.
We talk to Heritage Auctions’ director of Texas art, Atlee Phillips, about that January phone call and what convinced her Buell’s find was genuine, why the painting hasn’t been restored, about the famous figures who appear in it and about the Texas Legislature honorably stepping forward to pay Henry McArdle for his two giant murals — almost 20 years after he was already dead.