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 John Mulvany  (1844 - 1906)

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Lived/Active: New York/Missouri / Ireland      Known for: frontier, battlefields, portrait

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from Auction House Records.
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
On June 25, 1876, in what is now eastern Montana, there occurred a minor military engagement along the Little Bighorn River.

The Seventh U.S. Cavalry under Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer had met up unexpectedly with the fighting men of a large Sioux and Cheyenne village, and five companies of cavalry, some 270 soldiers, were killed.

Despite the fact that no white eyewitnesses survived, the event soon became a major saga in the mythology of our country's history, and hundreds of artists, poets, composers and historians have tried their hands at producing a true depiction of events as they must have unfolded that day.

The first artist to realize the potential appeal of the subject matter was John Mulvany (1844-1906), who had arrived in the U.S. from Ireland in the mid-1850s, served in the Civil War, and later travelled to Europe to study art under masters well known for their battlefield scenes. Returning to the U.S. in the early 1870s, Mulvany lived in Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago and points West.

John Mulvany was living in Kansas City as of 1879, when he began work on "Custer's Last Rally", a huge painting depicting the cavalrymen's last minutes on earth. In his quest for accuracy of detail, the artist researched his subject on the actual battlefield, on Sioux reservations, and at Fort Leavenworth. After two years of work on his masterpiece, Mulvany completed the eleven-by-twenty-foot canvas and took it on the road. The monumental painting remained on tour until at least 1890, wowing paying audiences in a number of U.S. cities. A newspaper commentator in Boston saluted Mulvany's forceful depiction of "a grim, dismal melee," and Walt Whitman, the famous poet, praised the work as being sketched "from reality, or the best that could be got of it."

In order to reach an even larger audience, Mulvany prepared his composition to be issued as a color lithograph. As part of this process, the artist painted a smaller version of his work, from which a lithograph artist could prepare a print to be mass-produced. This copy is in the collections of the Woolaroc Museum, Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The large original painting is in private hands.

Mulvany continued his career as a painter, but he is remembered now, if at all, only for "Custer's Last Rally", which was said to have made him a small fortune. Although he enjoyed tremendous commercial success for a time, the artist finally succumbed to the lure of alcoholism and drowned himself in the East River in 1906.

"Custer's Last Rally" is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History, Kansas State Historical Society.

From a researcher at the Ashworth Collection of Native American and Western Art in Fort Smith, AR. Material for this biography is from the Kansas Historical Society at
Born in Ireland, John Mulvany was a western genre painter who is most remembered for his Civil War scenes and for being the first artist to depict the defeat of General Custer in 1876.

He studied at the Dusseldorf and Munich Academies in Germany where one of his teachers was Karl Von Piloty, known for his classical depictions of historical genre. Mulvany came to the United States in 1856 and then served as a Union soldier in the Civil War. He then returned to Europe came back to the United States where he lived in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Chicago and then Nebraska following the Chicago fire of 1871.

Exhibition venues included the Brooklyn Art Association and the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
In January 2003, the Irish American Cultural Institute held a meeting at the residence of Noel Fahey, the Irish Ambassador to the United States. The purpose of the Insititute is to promote cultural awareness of Ireland and to support history research.

Niamh O'Sullivan was one of the award winners. She is a 2001 Ph.D. recipient from University College Dublin and has been a lecturer of History of Art and Design and Complementary Studies at National College of Art and Design since 1987.

Her submission that earned the award was: "A Retrospective of John Mulvany's Artwork".


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