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    CONFEDERATE GEN. ROBERT E. LEE: AN IMPORTANT SUPERB, LARGE WAR-ERA PORTRAIT. Measuring 31" x 35.5" as framed, this imposing oil-on-canvas portrait is attributed to George Drury (1817 - 1894), a well-known portrait artist who long resided in the Nashville area from 1849 until his death. His portrait of Mrs. James K. Polk hangs in the White House. A 1956 letter from Robert T. Quarles, Jr., secretary of the Tennessee Historical Society, confidently attributes the painting to Drury: "At the instance I looked at the portrait my reaction was that it must be a Drury. However, to back my judgment I called his grandson...and made an appointment for you to carry this portrait for him to view. After you left the city, Mr. Carl Drury called me and told me he was convinced in his mind that it was painted by his grandfather." An additional letter from Carl Drury (included here) also emphatically attributes the painting to his distinguished grandfather. A portrait artist, Drury also painted Jefferson Davis (1862), the Union Commander at the Battle of Nashville Gen. George Thomas, and later Reconstruction governor William G. "Parson" Brownlow, as well as Abraham Lincoln.

    The present consignor purchased the painting in 1966 from noted South Carolina antiques dealer Herman Schindler, who had offered it in a display advertisement in Antiques magazine. In this ad, Schindler stated that the portrait had "descended in the Lee family, and was purchased for the widow of Robert E. Lee, the grandson of the general, in 1927." Although no documentation accompanies the painting, this is quite plausible, as history records Col. Lee as having died in 1922. Schindler went on to assert that George Drury was "known to have done sketches of the General, from life, in Tennessee. It is stated that Lee never sat for his portrait. This could be the exception."

    It is certainly highly plausible to assign a War-period date to this work. It depicts a rather youthful, vigorous Lee, in strong contrast to the care-worn images of just a few years later, and of course he is in uniform. The image is a unique one, and certainly does not appear to have been done from any of the widely-known photographic portraits of Lee. As an artwork, the quality is high, and consistent with Drury's best work. A War-period item in the Nashville Daily Press and Time hailed Drury's works for their "naturalness of expression and color, spirit of look and feature, delicacy of light and shade, preserved as only the real limner can transpose them." Surely it must rank as one of the finest of Lee period portraits, let alone among those potentially available on the private market.

    Overall condition is excellent for display. There is very minor surface craquelure, and the canvas was re-lined long ago. There is possible repair to the upper left corner and strengthening to the left eye, bridge of the nose, and lower center lip. Also a possible repair near the center and surface varnish, all of which occurred long ago and are inconsequential to the display presence of the painting, as the catalog photo shows. An important portrait of one of the towering figures of the Civil War, and a rare acquisition opportunity for sophisticated collectors and institutions alike.

    ‡ The owner placed a late bid on this unreserved lot and repurchased it, subject to applicable commission.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2007
    1st Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 6,621

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