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Historic mural

Military Museum acquires large painting of battle hero Benedict Arnold

Wednesday, March 6, 2013
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Historic mural


“Benedict Arnold, Triumphant at Saratoga,” a 7-by-25-foot painting by historical and military artist George Gray, is shown at the H. Lee White Maritime Museum in Oswego.
“Benedict Arnold, Triumphant at Saratoga,” a 7-by-25-foot painting by historical and military artist George Gray, is shown at the H. Lee White Maritime Museum in Oswego.

— A large painting of Benedict Arnold, considered the hero of the 1777 Battles of Saratoga but later disgraced for betraying his country, has been acquired by the New York State Military Museum on Lake Avenue in Saratoga Springs.

Michael Aikey, museum director, said the painting titled “Benedict Arnold, Triumphant at Saratoga” is “huge,” some 7 feet by 25 feet in size. The painting by historical and military artist George Gray once hung in the long-closed Hendrick Hudson Hotel in Troy.

The mural, which was painted in the 1930s, has been donated to the military museum by the H. Lee White Marine Museum in Oswego. That museum received the mural from a hotel in Oswego, once owned by the same hotel chain as the Hendrick Hudson Hotel.

Aikey said the White Museum did not feel the Arnold mural fit in with its maritime mission. Aikey said the state military museum was thrilled to receive it because it can eventually be used in the museum’s Revolutionary War exhibit.

“It will be awhile before the public sees it,” Aikey said. He said the large mural has been carefully rolled up and must be mounted on a frame by a conservator before it can be displayed.

WWI painting

The military museum already holds another very large Gray painting titled “Breaking the Hindenberg Line.” That mural depicts soldiers of the New York National Guard’s 27th Infantry Division in action during WWI and later hung in the New York State Armory in Schenectady before the National Guard left that building in 2008.

“Gray was an important historical artist, who also contributed work to New York’s National Guardsman magazine in the ’30s as well as to the Army’s Infantry Journal and Cavalry Journal,” Aikey said.

The New York State Military Museum will work with the Friends of the New York State Military Museum, a private non-profit which raises money to support the museum, to raise funds so the Battles of Saratoga painting can be displayed.

Hired by hotel company

The Hendrick Hudson Hotel, which shut its doors in 1966 but still stands in downtown Troy, was operated by the American Hotels Corporation. In the 1930s, the company hired Gray, who was born in 1907 and died in 2004, to paint murals depicting local history in the hotels the company owned across the United States.

The painting donated to the military museum depicts the moment on Oct. 7, 1777, when American Major General Benedict Arnold personally led an assault that captured a British fortification known as the Breymann’s Redoubt, which is currently part of the Saratoga National Historical Park in the town of Stillwater.

The capture of this fortification, held by Hessian troops under General Henrich von Breymann during the Battles of Saratoga, exposed the British position on Bemis Heights overlooking the Hudson River and forced the British to withdraw and retreat. This led to the British force being surrounded and surrendering on Oct. 17, 1777.

But in 1780, Benedict Arnold plotted to betray his county and sell out the American fort at West Point and General George Washington to the British. He finished up the Revolutionary War fighting as a British General.

One of the unusual features of the mural is how its representation of Benedict Arnold changed over time, Aikey said.

While Arnold is depicted on horseback leading his men to victory, the legend under the painting first read: “A victory made possible by an American Major General who neither forgotten nor forgiven and nameless to loyal men, nevertheless with bravery and resourcefulness commanded our forces at Quebec, Valcour Island, Fort Stanwix, Ridgefield, and finally at this, one of the decisive battles of the world.”

Novelist’s idea

The idea for changing the painting to commemorate Benedict Arnold’s heroic feats for the American cause came from historical fiction novelist Kenneth Roberts ( 1885-1957). Roberts was a best-selling author and two of his books focused on the military campaigns Arnold led. In both books, Arnold is portrayed as heroic.

Roberts, sometime after 1937, contacted either Gray or the American Hotels Corporation and lobbied to give Benedict Arnold his due for the flawed general’s important contribution to the American cause, according to Aikey.

As a result of Roberts’ efforts, the mural today credits Arnold in the legend, adds his name to the map panel, and replaces the Boot Monument panel with a panel representing Arnold’s inspired leadership at the Battle of Valcour Island.

 
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