Browse More Essays

The Last Meeting

Everett B.D. Julio was definitely not from here. But he bought into the South and its Lost Cause right off. I found out precisely how much as I sat with Ray Samuel in the library of his home in New Orleans’ Garden District late one summer afternoon in 1985. I was visiting with Ray, an established client, renowned collector, and scholar who had earlier that day taken me to meet legendary dealer Albert Lieutaud. Lieutaud’s career as a dealer is unchronicled, but his role in Southern art should be. He played a key role in assembling the collection of General and Mrs. Kemper Williams, which helped form the core of the Historic New Orleans Collection. Ray told delightful stories during that long ago afternoon over Manhattans at Lieutaud’s apartment, prepared for us by the elder gentleman’s nurse.

As steamy afternoon turned to sultry evening, my question went something like this: “Ray, you have been collecting in this community so long and seem to know everyone with similar interests. What is out there that is, first and foremost, great, and, second, that I just might be able to buy?” He thought for a moment, then asked if I would like another drink. I refused with the thought that I wanted to get on to Mobile. Ray rose from his Campeachy chair and walked into the kitchen. I called after him saying that I really didn’t need another drink, but then heard him on the phone. He reemerged and said, “Let’s take a walk.” We headed down the street toward Commander’s Palace, continued past that famed spot, and took a left onto Prytannia. Halfway down the next block, across from Lafayette Cemetery #1, was a man wearing jeans, crouched on his knees, pulling weeds in a flower bed. Thus, I was introduced to Charles Sinnott and invited inside. And there it was.

I had long known of Julio’s The Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson; innumerable reproductions of it had been made since its creation in 1869. There was even a watercolor copy of it in the Norton Museum of Art in Shreveport, Louisiana. I had seen that rendering and incorrectly supposed it to be the original. Mr. Sinnott, a man larger than me, stood to one side, dwarfing Ray, who was much closer to the actual size of the figures of Lee and Jackson in the painting. It was dirty, but beautiful. The Sinnotts, fortunately, had only daughters, so a football had never been thrown through it, never a sword cut from the careless play of boys. For what Confederate son could have resisted acting out the scene before us?

It took me nearly two years to buy the painting and another five to sell it. Ray and Martha Ann Samuel took a room at Antoine’s to celebrate the purchase, and it was a fine evening. Ray had left instructions for a Baked Alaska to be brought in after dinner, which caught the rest of us by surprise. With great aplomb, the waiter held the dessert high and danced through the room, the lighted ice cream cake on a silver platter. Only after he set it, with a flourish, in the center of the table did we read the inscription: “Lee Ann Jackson.” Perhaps Ray failed to enunciate or just maybe whoever took the order was not from around there either. We were not there to celebrate a friend’s birthday, but the launch of a promising adventure.

We put that gargantuan painting on tour, which was no small feat, and began to reintroduce it to the South. There were seven stops, from Montgomery to Richmond. Ultimately and fittingly, the latter city’s Museum of the Confederacy, now the American Civil War Museum, purchased The Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson from me, and we installed it there in 1992. After my son, McLean, climbed the ladder and placed the eagle on top of the frame for the very last time, he, my great friend Carroll Rush, and I walked out of the museum to a good dinner and better reflection.

I will always be identified with that painting, Julio’s masterpiece and monument to the Lost Cause. I am proud to have rediscovered and refurbished it, happy to have brought awareness of it to a vast audience. There was, however, a dark side to riding alongside the famous generals for so long. It was all done on borrowed money, and for a time, it was the painting that simply would not sell. The energy and the anguish seem now to have been worth it, but I know that time has numbed me to it. Finances were awfully tight during its time with me.

I could not bring myself to go back to the museum in Richmond until some years later. I was headed home from somewhere down I-95 and looked up to catch a glimpse of the White House of the Confederacy and knew—instantly—that I had to do it. I took the exit and made my way to the door. I had watched others stand before the generals on their war horses and ponder their legacy. I stood before them that day and thought about how very difficult it had been for me to get them there, to that most appropriate of places. Coming as this day did, just months before my father died after a long, unkind battle with Parkinson’s disease, I considered the toll this particular holy grail had taken on me and on my daddy, the project’s chief financier.

Buck Pennington wrote a book on The Last Meeting, its history, and the import of the scene depicted. He joined us on the painting’s whistle-stop tour and delivered an engaging talk at each of the participating museums. The closer we traveled to the hallowed ground of Chancellorsville, the greater a sensation the painting caused. The exception to that axiom was the painting’s extended tenure at Wofford College in Spartanburg. Wofford graciously allowed me to install it there—the only place in town big enough to accommodate it—when it was not on tour. The painting became something of a local celebrity and many people in the greater Spartanburg community still remember it fondly. As do I.

Everett B.D. Julio (1843-1879)
The Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson (1869)
Oil on canvas
108 x 72 inches
Signature Details: Lower left
Owner: American Civil War Museum, Richmond, Virginia
1451 River Road · Yemassee, SC 29945 · 843.412.8738
Get Our Email Newsletter
Created by . Easy site updating through Backstage CMS.