VIRGINIA DIVISION FUNDS CONSERVATION OF ARLINGTON HOUSE WATERCOLOR

On May 30, 2002, Virginia Division President Mrs. John W. Lougheed presented Arlington House Curator Colleen Cury with a check for $1,500 to conserve a pre-War watercolor of General Robert E. Lee's home.

In 1853, artist Benson J. Lossing visited Arlington, Va., on the banks of the Potomac River to research an article on the house built by George Washington's adopted grandson, George Washington Park Custis. Living with Custis at the time was his daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, her children, and her husband Robert, then an officer in the United States Army.

Watercolor of Arlington House

During his week-long stay, Lossing made many sketches of the house and grounds, one of which he left with Susan Poor, the governess of the Lees' middle daughters Annie and Agnes. It was Miss Poor who gave Agnes Lee the journal that she kept for years and that was eventually published by her great-niece Mary Custis Lee deButts as Growing Up in the 1850's.

The Arlington House that Agnes wrote about as she practiced her penmanship exists now only in the pages of her journal -- and in Lossing's watercolor. In the early days of the War Between the States, the mansion was confiscated, ostensibly for nonpayment of taxes, and passed out of the Lee family hands.

Although the Lees' eldest son Custis eventually received financial compensation from the U.S. Government for the family's loss, it was not until March 4, 1925, that the association between Arlington House and the Custis-Lee family was reestablished. On that date, Congress authorized restoration of the mansion as a national memorial to General Lee, a man who had gained the respect of both North and South not just for his military skills but also for his post-War work as an educator and for his advocacy of sectional reconciliation.

As part of its ongoing efforts to maintain Arlington House as a suitable memorial to a much-loved and venerated American icon, the National Park Service has embarked on a campaign to restore Arlington House and its furnishings to their pre-War condition.

Among the many items in need of conservation is the Lossing watercolor. Although the dangers posed by prolonged exposure to natural and manmade light will prevent the fragile painting's becoming part of the permanent display at Arlington House, it will be brought out for special events when lighting conditions can be monitored and may occasionally be used in temporary displays as well.

In the years following the surrender at Appomattox, the Old Dominion was an occupied state. The display of all things Confederate (including flags and military buttons) was prohibited, and even the singing of Dixie was forbidden. But Arlington House still occupied the heights along the Potomac River, a silent but eloquent reminder of "Marse" Robert and a source of courage and inspiration for all Virginians. In recognition of the important role the mansion has played in the history of both the Confederacy and the United States of America, Virginia Division UDC decided in 2001 to fund the conservation of the Lossing watercolor.

    Mrs. John W. Lougheed presents a check for $1,500 to Colleen Cury, Curator of Arlington House, on May 30, 2002.

The $1,500 conservation fee was raised mainly through sales of a button-style pin bearing a reproduction of an antique Commonwealth of Virginia seal. Because the amount needed for the conservation was less than originally estimated, Virginia Division is considering conserving another item from the Arlington House inventory. Anyone wishing to contribute to this ongoing project should contact Virginia Division President Mrs. John W. (Sam) Lougheed at jslougheed@erols.com. For a minimum donation of $2.50 (plus a small postage and handling fee) and while supplies last, donors will receive one of the Virginia buttons (shown below).

Reproduction of an antique seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia    


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