VAIL, Colorado - Artist Tom Lovell was considered one of the finest living historic illustrators in 1964 when commissioned by the National Geographic Society to create a painting of a very important event to be used in an article reflecting on its 100th anniversary. The date, April 9 1865, marked the end of the Civil War with the signing and surrender in Wilmer MacLean's living room in the village of Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.
The painting, "Surrender at Appomattox," is the most important truly national painting they may ever have in their possession at Claggett/Rey Gallery. National Geographic realized no such visual record existed of such an important event in our nation's history. Lovell was given open access to all written accounts, documents and photographs of those in attendance and access to the location for his meticulous research. This painting has since become accepted as the most authoritative depiction of the event.
Lovell was a perfectionist and clearly the finest choice to create a painting depicting the emotion of the moment. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, head of the Union forces, in his soiled uniform, with no spurs or saber, sits slump shouldered and tired, truly humble as the significance of the event sets in while observing Gen. Robert E. Lee, head of the Confederacy, dressed in his last best embroidered uniform with polished boots and spurs signing the terms of surrender. Grant, clearly, along with his significant union observers, are heeding Lincoln's words to allow Lee and the Confederacy very respectful and dignified terms of surrender to unify the country and become a nation.
Paintings created during the Civil War by noted artists such as Winslow Homer (1836-1910), Eastman Johnson (1824-1906), Thomas Moran (1832-1926), John Ross Key (1837-1920), William Aiken Walker (1838-1921) and others, are works reflecting daily life during the times and today are highly regarded as incredible fine art records of the period. Although there were cameras being used throughout the Civil War, ironically there were none present at the surrender at Appomattox nor was there an artist in attendance. There are plenty of written accounts though, documenting virtually every detail of the historic event. The magnitude of the signing and surrender was so significant to the witnessing Union officers they virtually stripped the room bare of all furnishings after Lee's departure and later troops cut strips of fabric from the couch and the carpet to own some record of the event which they would reflect on the rest of their lives.
The "Surrender at Appomattox" was deaccessioned by the National Geographic Society along with a number of other paintings and photographs, which were offered through Christie's New York auction house this past December. It had been in the storage in a very crudely simple frame behind Plexiglas for almost five decades. It has been loaned from time to time for a few museum shows, which are recorded on the reverse, and its image has appeared in several books and prints.
The painting is an icon of American art history and can be viewed at Claggett/Rey Gallery in Vail.