Old South Military Antiques

Famous Confederate Soldier Artist’s Canteen
Item #: os3130

The oil painted Confederate wooden Canteen pictured here depicts a Confederate Cavalryman wearing a grey kepi, an oilcloth raincoat, yellow pants and knee high riding boots. He is supporting his weary Infantry companion who is wearing a grey jacket and dark pants under a full length grey greatcoat. The weary horse, rider, and Infantryman are traveling through a war torn area in the rain and the sun is setting on the Confederacy in the background. Both are unarmed and both have despairing countenances.

The painting is outlined in gold, which is still brilliant. The spout is also painted gold.

The lettering on the reverse, "Souvenir of the trip to RICHMOND VaOct. 1881”, gives great insight into the history of painted canteens. Just above the date, lightly written in pencil is "Yorktown Centennial.”

October of 1881 was the centennial of Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown. In 1881, meetings of Confederate Veterans were still very much frowned upon by the Federal Government and evidently the Veterans gathered in Richmondunder the auspices of celebrating the centennial.

At that gathering two prominent Confederate artists donated work to the ladies bazaar; one was Alan Shepard and the other John Adams Elder. Elder painted the canteen shown here and later, it would be the model for one of his most famous works "After Appomattox” in 1886.

Cartoonist Thomas Nast came to Richmond in 1881, presumably for the same event. He joined Jack Elder, Trav Daniel, artist William Ludwell "Willie" Sheppard and a Mr. Wellford for a convivial photograph which is shown here. It is the only known photograph of John Elder. It was during October, 1881 that "After Appomattox” was first known to have been painted by Elder. Shepard was known to have painted canteens at the same event.

John Adams "Jack" Elder was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His artistic talent was evident at an early age. When he was only seven years old, he painted a decorative screen for his mother. A wealthy old lawyer named John Minor recognized Jack’s ability and became young Jack's patron. Thanks to Mr. Minor, by at age seventeen John Elder was the pupil of Daniel Huntington in New York City. Next Mr. Minor persuaded painter Emanuel Leutze of Washington Crossing the Delaware fame to take Jack with him when he returned to teach at the famous school of art in Dusseldorf, Germany. There the young artist studied for five years and won the academy prize.

For an unknown reason, Elder declined a trip to Rome which was part of the prize. Back home in Fredericksburg he painted portraits of area citizens in his one-room studio of the old Exchange Hotel at the corner of Caroline and Hanover Streets.

In the early morning of December 18, 1857, Jack's Exchange Hotel studio was destroyed by a fire. John Elder next established a studio in the Valentine Building at Broad and 9th Streets in Richmond. During the early days of the Civil War he was an artist for Southern Punch magazine. He was in Fredericksburg the morning of December 11, 1862 when Federal troops began their shelling of the town. A shell hit outside the Elder home at 1111 Caroline Street and set Jack's bed on fire. Luckily he had been visiting a friend that night. This attack upon unarmed civilians displayed the depravity of the Yankees and forced the War upon him. The next day he enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army serving as an aide to Major William H. Caskie. He was staying in the Caskie’s Richmond home when he wrote to his mother on May 19, 1863:

"I hope you will have all my things well packed sent to me immediately as I have nothing...but those I brought away on my back...I could rent a room reasonably cheap but unfurnished. I was thinking if it would not be a good idea to have a few things from my room sent down here and go regular to batcholing. I am sure I could cook a cup of coffee of mornings but then comes the dinner, that's the rub...Every thing is tremendously high. In fact I am afraid people will have to pay for smelling before long." The cost at a restaurant for a plate of soup and one veal cutlet was five dollars. "I could do nothing but pay for it...I am still at work at the Arsenal as draughtsman. I think I might do something if I had a room and all my paints in Richmond. Now don't fail to send me every thing down as soon as possible for I am kept back by your neglect in sending my trunk." I am employed in the office from 9 until 3 o'clock & the rest of the day I am idle & longing to hear how & what you have been doing since the great battle. I hope the grand old building (his home) is still standing and you all have not been frightened out of your wits of growth...You may soon look out for another great battle there or in the neighborhood...a greatest number of troops going up to Fredericksburg more than I have ever seen to so look out."

Years later, in another letter from Mrs. Van Swaringen's collection, Elder's close friend, Major Raleigh Travers "Trav" Daniel, recalls that Elder was a member of Caskie's Battery of Artillery at the Battle of the Crater before Petersburg. "And the next day," Trav Daniel wrote, "he made sketches of the topography and military positions of the scene."

After serving the Confederacy until Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, John Elder exchanged his rifle for his artist's brush. Soon after, William Wilson Corcoran came to Richmond to buy the large painting Elder made from the Crater sketches, but perhaps through loyalty to the South, it was instead sold to Confederate General William Mahone directly off of Elder’s easel. Today, the painting has a permanent home in the prestigious Commonwealth Club in Richmond. Mr. Corcoran made the best of his loss and ordered 3/4 portraits of Lee and Jackson and sat for a portrait by Elder.

In 1866 his painting of a wounded Confederate soldier leaning on the arm of his beautiful sister was on display in the art room of Davies' Musical Exchange in Richmond. One of Elder’s most famous paintings was "After Appomattox”. Having personally been there, he knew the despair. This famous Elder painting has hung in the Virginia State Library in Richmond, along with his portraits of governors, judges, and other distinguished Virginians. Appomattox depicts a Confederate soldier viewing the field of strife after the surrender. He also worked for years on "Lee at Appomattox” John Elder was at Appomattox and sought to convey his exact impression of General Lee as he came back from his interview with General Grant. Elder worked on it for years but it was still unfinished when he was paralyzed during his last years.

John Elder painted eight portraits of Robert E. Lee. He painted the Confederacy's heroes and battles, governors and other major Virginia officials and scenes of life in old Virginia. Elder painted the only know image of J.E.B. Stuart wearing the beautiful presentation sword given him by Heros Von Borke.

Both Atlanta and Savannah commissioned portraits of Lee. The Richmond letters he carried with him to Atlanta described him as "Captain Jack...our artist, the artist of Va. & `one of ours.”

"I have nothing to complain of," wrote Jack Elder to his friend, sculptor Edward Valentine who was in Paris. Elder settled down to serious painting, with many commissions for portraits. His Richmond studio was a meeting place for fellow artists and other friends. Jack Elder continued to paint. On March 22, 1884, the United States adjutant wrote General Fitzhugh Lee that he was sending John A. Elder in Richmond "copies of such papers relative to the Custer massacre as may be useful to a painter." The result was the iconic panoramic Battle of the Rosebud or Custer's Last Charge. It is ironic that in Painting the demise of one of the worst of the miscreants that polluted the Southland, Elder bestowed upon him immortality. It was shown in the Virginia exhibit at an 1885 exposition in New Orleans and called "a great painting...an apotheosis of American courage."

John Elder modeled the bronze figure erected at the corner of Washington and Prince Streets in Alexandria from the soldier in Appomattox, commemorating the city's Confederate dead. Caspar Buberl helped him carry out the project. It was unveiled on May 24, 1889.

In 1887 Elder had spent a month at Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis' Mississippi home where he painted a full-length portrait of the Confederate president who he greatly esteemed. However, the artist's visit to Beauvoir had an unfortunate result: Elder contracted malaria and was never well again. He returned to Fredericksburg and his home on Caroline Street. His health gradually failed, and he died at 2 o'clock, the morning of February 24, 1895 in the same house in which he was born.

"The day of his funeral," Fredericksburg historian Robert A. Hodge wrote, "had a chilling wind which moaned in the leafless branches of the trees. Among the monuments in the Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery were piled white drifts of the storm just passed. That day it was said the name of John Elder would be as immortal in his native city as his portraits of Lee and Davis."

John Elder was well remembered, his comrade Trav Daniel wrote his biography for the Corcoran Gallery. In 1947 the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts held a retrospective exhibit with 52 of Elder’s paintings.

The discovery of the dated and addressed canteen sheds light on other painted canteens. Since both of these were painted and sold as souvenirs of the trip to Richmond, and since painted canteens are so rare, it stands to reason that a large portion of the few surviving painted canteens with a military scene were painted at the same time by John Elder or Alan Shepard, both of who were noted to have been painting them at the bazaar.

John Elder’s paintings were not all military, but his Confederate military work was, and is, his most desirable and sought after works and this is one of his most famous paintings. It is completely original and is in perfect condition
Price $55,000.00 USD

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