Tucked away in an old house in rural West Virginia, the painting was an enigma coated with a century’s dust. Depicting a seemingly obscure battle scene, its presence amid the attic’s cobwebs stirred little interest among those living below.
But Jon Buell, who discovered the painting while rummaging through his grandparents’ Weston, W. Va., attic last Thanksgiving, was fired with excitement.
He grilled relatives and searched the Internet, soon confirming that the 5-by-7-foot painting was the work of his great-great-grandfather, Texas artist Henry Arthur McArdle. It is a smaller version of McArdle’s famed 8-by-14-foot painting, The Battle of San Jacinto, which hangs in the Texas Senate chamber.
Art experts for decades thought the smaller canvas had perished in a 1918 house fire.
“I thought it might be worth $10,000 or $20,000,” said Buell, the suburban Washington, D.C., district manager for a hamburger chain. “My grandmother told me to do what I wanted, to see if I could sell it. I thought happy days were here.”
Atlee Phillips of Dallas’ Heritage Auctions said the painting is expected to bring about $100,000 when it is offered to bidders on Nov. 20.
Many believed the painting was destroyed when DeShields’ house burned in 1918. Buell, though, believes McArdle gave the painting to his son, Ruskin McArdle, who took the work with him when he became librarian of the U.S. Senate. Upon retirement, the younger McArdle joined other family members in West Virginia.
Henry McArdle was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1836. At age 14, he immigrated to Baltimore, where he studied art. During the Civil War, McArdle made maps for the Confederate Navy and served on the staff of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Heritage Auctions said the 5-foot-by-7-foot painting of the Texas Revolution’s decisive Battle of San Jacinto was expected to go for $100,000 to $150,000. It sold on Saturday at auction in Dallas for $334,600.