Artist, soldier, writer, critic, and educator James William Pattison led an eclectic life. Born in Boston, he studied art in New York with James McDougal Hart and R. Swain Gifford; in Düsseldorf with Albert Flamm; and in Paris with Luigi Chialiva. Following military service during the Civil War, he went on to enjoy a successful career as a painter of figure, landscape, genre, and animal subjects, working and exhibiting both at home and abroad.
At the age on nineteen, Pattison was recruited to serve in Company G of the 57th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, a squadron deployed to the Battle of Petersburg, Virginia. This siege, which extended from June 15, 1864 to April 2, 1865, pitted Union forces against well armed Confederate soldiers protecting Richmond in General Lee's last grand offensive. Lee's defeat in Petersburg led to the fall of the Confederate capital and the subsequent end of the war just a week later. As represented in this image, Pattison was serving on a routine nighttime security detail of the headquarters, which is seen here illuminated by fire. This oil sketch, executed from memory after the artist had returned home, is an exceptional record of a Union battle position.
In 1876, Pattison married Helen Searle, an artist in her own right, and moved to the town of Ecouen outside of Paris, where he remained for six years. Between 1879 and 1881, he exhibited scenes of Ecouen at the Paris Salon. He returned to America, settling in Jacksonville, Illinois, in 1884 and served as director of the School of Fine Arts there until 1896.
Pattison was an assiduous exhibitor even while living abroad. He entered paintings in annuals at the National Academy of Design; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Art Institute of Chicago; American Water Color Society; Brooklyn Art Association; and Boston Art Club. He also had work on view at Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition and the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. A prolific writer and critic, Pattison authored essays on Robert Henri, Leon Dabo, Albert Blakelock, George Hitchcock, and George Inness, among others.
Brewer, Philip L., M.D., Spot: Southern Works on Paper (2008; Charleston: Hicklin Galleries, LLC/The Charleston Renaissance Gallery), 148 pages, illustrated page 100.
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