This is the underpainting to a slightly caricatured portrait of the Puritan John Owen (based on Greenhill’s painting). I didn’t rub in a mid tone. Normally I do, but I put so much matte medium on the paper (which is sort of like Elmer’s glue) that it obscured the drawing a little. I worried that a mid tone would obliterate the drawing altogether so I just painted the face and I’ll scrub in the background during the color stage.
Today is a historic civil war date. It marks the death of John Wilkes Booth, the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston’s army to General William Tecumseh Sherman, and Confederate Memorial Day, observed officially in seven States.
It is an entirely unexpected coincidence that my post of the finished the picture of Robert E. Lee falls on Confederate Memorial Day. I started the painting after reading about Lee and Lincoln in Paul Johnson’s book Heroes and with the desire to compliment my Lincoln painting.
Chapter eight of Heroes describes both Lincoln and Lee as “Two Kinds of Nobility.” Both men were fiercely ambitious, but it seems Lee’s ambition arose to suppress a legacy of shame. His father was a revolutionary war general and a governor of Virginia. According to Johnson, he became a dishonest land speculator, was jailed twice, and declared bankruptcy. He fled to the Caribbean when young Robert was six and he never returned.
Here’s what Johnson writes, “Robert E. Lee seems to have set himself up, quite deliberately, to redeem the family honor by leading an exemplary life of public service. ‘Honor,’ a word he pronounced with a special loving emphasis, putting a stress on each syllable, meant everything to him. His dedication to honor made him a peculiarly suitable person to become the equivalent to the South of Lincoln, sanctifying its cause by personal probity and virtuous inspiration.”
When South Carolina seceded, all eyes looked to Virginia to see which way the Old Dominion would side. It is said that Lee denounced secession privately in letters, and saw it as a betrayal of the Founder’s first principles. When asked if he would fight for the Confederacy, Lee replied “I shall never bear arms against the Union, but it may be necessary for me to carry a musket in the defense of my native state, Virginia, in which case I shall not prove recreant to my duty.” At the recommendation of Winfield Scott, Lincoln offered Lee a top command in the forthcoming Union army, but when the Old Dominion voted for secession, Lee refused Lincoln’s offer. He said, “I prize the Union very highly and know of no personal sacrifice I would not make to preserve it, save that of honour.” Unlike his father, Lee it seems, would not break his commitments or otherwise embarrass the State of Virginia. Two days after Lincoln’s offer, Lee resigned from the U.S. Army. Three days after that, he took command of Virginia’s State forces.
In an 1874 speech before the Southern Historical Society in Atlanta, Benjamin Harvey Hill remarked that Lee “… was a Ceasar, without his ambition; Fredrick, without his tyranny; Napoleon, without his selfishness, and Washington, without his reward.”
In the end Lincoln and Lee are the fitting tragic heroes in a war shot through with tragedy.
EDIT: Thanks to Justin for taking pictures of my painting with his space camera.
While I’m waiting for the highlights in my General Lee painting to dry, I’ve started on three slightly caricaturish portraits. I have two of the drawings finished. Here’s the first–a drawing of Athanasius.
I based the drawing on this icon.
I get confused with the religious art hand signals, and I can’t find any information on what they mean. I did a search and found one article that seems to be written in a journal for hand surgeons. You have to pay to read it. I didn’t read it. I initially gave Athanasius what I think might be the sign for “I love you.” Some friends lovingly pointed out that it seems pretty close to the sign heavy metal fans make while they bob their heads and/or stick out their tongues. Anyway, in order to be safe I changed it to the drawing. The old scan is below. If anybody knows what the gestures mean or knows a hand surgeon who knows what they mean please leave me a comment, thanks.
Did this for the illustration Friday topic Brave. It’s a guy fighting a doggone lion. I’d say that’s pretty brave. I sort of like the composition. You can click on it to see it bigger, though it’s a little unfinished.
And so as not to leave you without something cool to read. Here is an excerpt on courage from the very brave Alexander Solzhenitsyn at his Harvard address in 1978. At the time his speech was poorly received.
A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.
Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?
EDIT: I think the strident response of the state department against Israel is indicative of this last sentiment: “…decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with … governments… not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.”
State department walks on eggshells when talking to nuclear-weapon-pursuing-Iran, but plays the tough guy with Israel when they announce they plan to build houses in their own capital! What is wrong with the world?