The Momentary - Bentonville, Arkansas - Feb 22, 2020

A Civil War Ghost Story Mystery

  • August 10, 2011 20:41

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The Woman and the Soldier

Have I mentioned that I am quite good at buying unsigned paintings?  Yes?  Oh, wonderful then you know already.  For those of you who are new to my blog, here's a little backstory: I am always buying things that I know very little about.  There.  I said it.  It's part challenge and part gamble.  It's what makes the antiques business fun.  Reaching out and trying your hand at something new.  This painting is no different.  Actually, it is different.  Very different...

So, I had just given birth to our second child a week earlier.  A dealer friend of mine had called to see how we were all doing (awesome, thank you) and also wanted to show me a few things.  Maybe the paintings were first on his mind, but I like to think it was the other way around.  So, he makes the drive over to our apartment and I met him in the lobby.  The first two paintings were not for me (though I bought them against my better judgement and lost money, but that is a WHOLE other story - P.S. always go with your gut rather than a signature...) and then he showed me the third painting.  Wow.  Strong.  Emotional.  It wasn't my hormones, it was the painting.  It had been re-lined at some time, maybe 70 years ago or so and was an oil on canvas dating to the late 1800's, I thought.  Looked like an American canvas and stretcher.  And now to the interesting part.  The painting.  A woman in a white dress playing the violin sits on the edge of a bed.  A man (who looks like some military type) is lying in the bed propped up on pillows dressed in a white shirt with red around the cuff.  The room is bare.  A brown dresser and blue chair are the only furniture.  There is a crucifix above the bed.  Trust me, it is an emotional piece.  Asking my friend about the piece yielded nothing.  An, "Oh, I'm not sure.  Could be something good.  Maybe an illustrator.  Definitely American,  Sargent?  I had a couple other names in mind..."  You know the story.  So, we reached a price and I brought the paintings back up to our apartment.  The whole deal lasted about ten minutes.  Just long enough for the new baby to fall asleep.  And yes, the door closing did wake her up...

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So after some time with the family, I began on my search for an artist.  I tried illustrators.  I tried American painters.  I tried violin players.  I got no answers.  Days turned into weeks and those turned into months.  Zilch.  We were planning a trip to Brazil, so I packed up the paintings and put them into storage.  And there it sat.  About six months later, I was reunited with the paintings and I was happy to be hanging them in our new apartment.  When the time came to unpack this one, I was seeing it with fresh eyes.  Sitting down at the computer I typed in four words: woman violin soldier painting.  Bingo.  Sort of.  Turns out there's a Civil War ghost story about a woman who plays the violin for a dying soldier.  It's a North South romance.  Very touching.  I felt that I had made a huge breakthrough.  Could this painting symbolize the story?  Tell me what you think...

The Woman and the Soldier

The story goes, during the Civil War the Martha Washington College for ladies was turned into a hospital of sorts to care for wounded soldiers.  The college was located very much in the South, but took on patients from either side.  A few of the students enrolled in the college stayed on as nurses and nurses aides.  One day a seriously wounded officer from the North was brought in.  He was brought in and cared for by the doctors and nurses.  One of the students who was assigned to his care, began to fall in love with him.  She was a wonderful violin player, not much of a nurse.  When the wounded officer would need some comfort, he would ask her to play violin for him.  Legend has it, that he called out to her to play something.  She obliged and he peacefully passed away.  She would die a short time later, some say of a broken heart.

The Woman and the Soldier

The Martha Washington College is now the Martha Washington Inn.  Some say that to this day, the sounds of a violin can still be heard coming from the room where the Northern soldier and Southern student had fallen in love.  And the painting remains a bit of a mystery, but one that is at least a bit closer to an understanding.  Now, if I could just figure out the artist...


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