Self-portrait of Henry McArdle circa 1865, about the time he moved to Texas. Courtesy Hazel Smith Bonner, Smith Family Collection.
Henry McArdle circa 1875, around the time he painted The Settlement of Austin's Colony and the first Dawn at the Alamo. Courtesy Hazel Smith Bonner, Smith Family Collection.
Portrait of Henry McArdle in old age. Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library and Archives.
Henry Arthur McArdle was born in Belfast, Ireland on June 9, 1836, the same year as the Texas Revolution. He began his study of art as a child. At age 14, after the deaths of his parents, he emigrated to the United States with an aunt and settled in Baltimore. He studied at the Maryland Institute for the Promotional of Mechanic Arts, and was awarded the prestigious Peabody Prize in 1860.
During the Civil War, McArdle served as a draftsman in the Confederacy, creating maps first for the Confederate Navy and later on the staff of General Robert E. Lee. After the war, he married Jennie Smith and moved to Independence, Texas. He taught art at Baylor Female College and began work as a portrait painter. While painting Texas Civil War veterans, he became interested in their stories and began work on Lee at the Wilderness, his first battle painting. He also conceived a fervent interest in Texas history that would propel the rest of his career. Jennie died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1870. Two years later, McArdle married Isophene Lacy (Isie) Dunnington; together they had a daughter and four sons.
In later years, McArdle moved to San Antonio and set up a studio there where he pursued his art full-time. He lacked the business and political savvy that could have won him large commissions and secured payment from the state for his paintings, and thus suffered from financial hardships. He died on February 16, 1908.
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McArdle had great difficulty getting paid for his work. This letter shows his attempt to get payment in 1888 for his "Log Cabin" painting of Stephen F. Austin.