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A Soldier's Sketchbook

SCOTT WAS SYMPATHETIC to the plight of the Indians and was regarded by them as a friend. He is said to have been initiated by the Hopi into their Antelope clan with all of the mysteries and rituals of the ceremony - an uncommon honor for a white man.

His work for the government complete, Scott went back to his home and studio, and returned to the theme that had been central to his career - the Civil War.  Working through deteriorating health, he painted one of his most moving pictures in 1899, "The Sentinel."  A lone Confederate soldier, wearing a threadbare uniform, stands guard over a bleak winter landscape.  It is near the end of the war and the hopelessness of the situation is evident in the soldier's visage.  He tugs at the collar of his great coat in a futile attempt to stave off the chill air.

On July 4, 1901, at age 55, Scott died in Plainfield after a long illness.  Following a Masonic service his body was laid to rest at the highest point in Hillside Cemetery.  Members of the Winfield Scott Post of the Grand Army of the Republic fired three volleys into the air while the flag draped casket was lowered into the grave.  Then, as the echoes of the musketry played in the distance, a lone bugler sounded "Taps," a fitting tribute to a soldier-artist.

Julian Scott's popularity during his own lifetime was certainly a result of the public hunger for pictures of the late war, and there is no refuting the fact that he amply fed that appetite.  But he would not stoop to the kind of art that was turned out just to bring a quick financial return.  Looking at this Civil War images today, we find soldiers' accoutrements and insignia reproduced accurately and painstakingly.  Because of his dedication to painting not just events, but persons involved in events, many of his paintings are really more portraits than thematic works.  It is possible to sense specific emotions in the eyes of the people he has represented.  There is never any doubt that these are real people.

Art critics admire Scott's fluid treatment of figures and his solidly constructed compositions.  Historians appreciate his concern for authenticity and precision  but , most importantly, any viewer can sense the nobility with which Julian Scott treated his subjects.  It is as though the poet Walt Whitman was thinking of him when he wrote:

Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions,
these chances.
Of unsurpass'd heroes,
(was one side so brave? The other equally brave;)
Now be witness again, paint the mightiest armies of earth

 

Robert Titterton resides in Elmore, Vermont, In 1989 he assembled an exhibit of Scott's work at the Dibden Gallery of Johnson State College in Scott's hometown of Johnson, Vermont.

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