This coming weekend will mark the anniversary of San Jacinto Day. In our mind’s eye, we can envision what that may have looked like, especially after visiting the San Jacinto Monument. Some will also think of Henry Huddle. His name may not be too familiar to many Texans, but most likely just about everyone might recognize at least one of his works. San Jacinto Day is drawing near, and the painting called “The Surrender of Santa Anna” (pictured below) commemorates the famous battle.
William Henry Huddle was born in Wytheville, Virginia in 1847, almost two years after Texas became a state. He was just old enough to enlist in the Civil War and served for two years in the Confederate cavalry under Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and Joseph Wheeler. After the war, he moved with his family to Lamar County in Texas where he worked in the family business, a gun maker’s shop. Other Huddle family members included his great uncle John Huddle and second cousin William Huddle who had come to Lamar County as early as 1855. While living in a little community later named Hopewell just northwest of Paris, Huddle’s brother John Foster Huddle became a blacksmith while Henry worked in the family business and began to experiment with painting.
In 1870, a cousin of his, J. Flavius Fisher, invited him to Nashville, Tennessee to study portrait painting. Fisher would go on to become a portrait painter at the White House. After studying for three years in Tennessee, Henry returned to Texas to try to find wor. He remained there until 1874 when he enrolled in the National Academy of Design in New York, a conservative school. There he continued to learn the art and develop his skills until the Academy closed for a short while. While still in New York, Huddle and 122 other students formed the Art Students League in 1875 and one of the apparent endeavors of this group was to branch out and paint nudes. Back then it was considered quite risqué to do so. After this period, Henry returned to North Texas for a short time until around 1876, he relocated to Austin, becoming enamored with the Hill Country scenery. There he opened a studio at the Cook Building and resided at the Curtis house. While in Austin, he met his future wife Nannie Zenobia Carver in 1879 and they would marry around ten years later.
He briefly went to Munich, Germany to study in the fall of 1884, but was soon drawn back to Texas, and to Nannie. He had studios Austin in the McDonald Building and also on the second floor of the Masonic Temple. In 1883, an adjoining building caught fire and Huddle was described as being seen exiting the Masonic Temple carrying only bottles of wine, cigars and food. After he realized that he might have more time, he entreated his friends and acquaintances to help him remove his artwork, promising them free portrait sittings, which turned out to be a daunting offer as he sought to honor all of his promises. From 1884 to 1888, his reputation grew as he began to paint the portraits of each of the presidents of the Republic of Texas and the first governors of the new state. The Texas Legislature acquired all seventeen works and commissioned him to do more work. He painted the famous portrait of David Crockett and added to it the well known painting, “The Surrender of Santa Anna” shown below and perhaps his best known work. Both paintings now hang opposite one another in the state Capitol Building.
(Image Credit: Bullock State Texas History Museum)
Huddle often used his friends as models for his now famous paintings. For instance, a friend named Will Ford was the model for Davy Crockett. For the Santa Anna surrender painting, an Austin doctor named Frank McLaughlin posed as the physician attending the prone figure of Sam Houston, Huddle’s brother John posed as the soldier shown clenching his fist and glaring at the Mexican dictator, J. L. Driskill allowed Huddle to paint his own hands for those of Houston.
One interesting topic of discussion about the Santa Anna surrender painting came to light years after Huddle’s death. At least three biographies describe Sam Houston as having been wounded in the right ankle as shown in the above painting, but in a letter from Houston to his wife Margaret on January 11, 1863, Houston refers to suffering from the San Jacinto wound in his left leg. The famous sixty-seven foot statue outside Huntsville shows Houston holding his familiar cane in his right hand. Houston’s son Andrew Jackson Houston wrote in a 1938 letter that his father’s left ankle was shattered by a copper ball. Most likely, the injury was sustained in Houston’s left ankle, though, rather than the right one, as depicted in the famous Huddle painting.
Huddle is thought to have become inspired to concentrate on painting scenes from Texas history after painting a portrait of George W. Wright, known as the founder of Paris, Texas, back in 1873. Wright was a longtime resident of the area, and he offered fifty acres of his farm land to Lamar County for the town of Paris to serve as the county seat. During the two months it took Huddle to complete the portrait, Huddle listened as Wright told of fighting Indians and also fighting the Mexican Army in the Texas Revolution. It is unknown whether Wright participated in the Battle of San Jacinto, however. Wright went on to serve in the first Texas Congress of the new Republic. Wright continued to serve in the Texas Congress and voted with his friend Sam Houston against succession in the state convention at the beginning of the Civil War. While painting the Wright portrait, Huddle also took time to carve a cane for his subject, whittling into it scenes from Texas history. Wright once showed it off on a trip to Austin and was persuaded to donate it to the State Archives, where it remains, so Huddle replaced it with another. The Wright portrait now hangs in the Texas Capitol Library. In all, some thirty-two Huddle works hang in Texas Capital buildings.
In March of 1892, while working at his studio, Huddle complained of a strange sensation coming over him and he began to feel ill. Friends took him to Dr. McLaughlin who examined him and recommended that he go home to rest. While walking to his residence he suffered the symptoms of a stroke and was was taken home by friends. Huddle briefly rallied and survived another five days before passing away. Writing of his death a local newspaper wrote “A bright star went out when his eyes closed forever on the light of this world.” Huddle was interred at the historic Oakwood Cemetery.
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