Harry McArdle, Artist

Henry Arthur “Harry” McArdle was an American artist who painted historical scenes of particular interest to Texans.  Since two of his works now hang in the Texas Capitol Building, some have probably seen examples of his work without knowing the name of the artist.

He was born in Ireland in 1836.  His father died when he was two years old and his mother died when he was eleven.  McArdle came to America with his aunt and uncle when he was a teenager, enrolling and completing his studies at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.  During the Civil War, he served as an engineer and ship designer for the Confederate Army.  After the war ended, he worked for Baylor University in Independence, Texas, where he served as an art instructor at the university and Baylor Female College.  He had a keen interest in the Civil War and interviewed veterans, including those of Hood’s Texas Brigade, as he produced a painting called Lee at the Wilderness and a second work, a portrait of Jefferson Davis.  He also painted portraits of many of the governors of Texas.

In the 1870s, he moved to San Antonio where he produced much of his work depicting scenes from Texas history.  He was known for his 1875 painting called Dawn at the Alamo which hung in the former Texas Capitol building that burned, along with his painting, in 1881.  He completed a second painting of the scene completed in 1905 that included William B. Travis, Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, who all died in the battle.  It and his painting of the Battle of San Jacinto now hang in the senate chamber of the current Texas Capitol Building.

(Image credit: Texas State Library and Archives Commission)

McArdle was not paid for the two famous paintings during his lifetime.  He had loaned them to the State and was negotiating for a sale at the time of his death.  His family received $25,000 for them in 1927.  In addition to the now famous paintings, the McArdle family also conveyed to the state the artist’s document folders, including his notes, letters and photographs that he used during his research.  McArdle had recounted of his many interviews including that of Edward Burleson, who had advised the artist regarding Houston’s uniform , the horse that he was riding and other details of the battle.

McArdle died when he was nearly 72 on February 16, 1908 at his home in San Antonio.  His first wife, Jeane Smith, had passed in 1870 and Isophine Dunnington, his wife of the last 35 years, passed in 1907.  He was survived by the five children of his union with Isophine.  The youngest, John Ruskin McArdle, was serving as secretary to Congressman Albert Sidney Burleson at the time of Harry’s death and later served as curator of the United States Senate Library when Burleson was appointed Postmaster General of the United States.  Harry McArdle was buried in San Antonio City Cemetery No. 6 alongside Isophine.

The artist was also featured in March of this year on the Fox Business Network series Strange Inheritance.  The episode dealt with a previously undiscovered painting that was found in the attic of a great great grandson of McArdle.  At first the owners were not aware of its significance.  It had been stored for years in the attic of a residence, but was examined by experts and found to be another painting of the Battle of San Jacinto.

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