"THE RESCUE OF THE COLORS" PAINTING AND SKETCH
"The Rescue of the Colors" by William B.T. Trego (1859-1909) depicts an incident in the Battle of Fair Oaks in 1862. It was commissioned in 1899 by the President of the Bucks County Historical Society, Gen. W.W.H. Davis, who had commanded the 104th Pennsylvania Regiment of Bucks County in the battle.
Davis can be seen at the left clutching his wounded arm, while Sgt. Hiram Purcell (later awarded the Medal of Honor) recues from the Confederates the banner which had been presented by the women of Doylestown. Letters from Trego to Davis in the Library archives attest to the artist's passion for accuracy-he demanded photographs and "personal experiences" of the surviving veterans, and submitted a rough sketch (enclosed) for their criticism.
The painting was paid for by John Wanamaker, the Philadelphia merchant and a member of the Historical Society.
Trego agreed to paint the picture for $400, "as a favor to my native county." Born in Yardley Pennsylvania, the artist was crippled at the age of two, probably by polio, which left him with deformed feet and almost completely paralyzed hands. By maneuvering the brush between his palms and rotating his whole body, he acquired enough expertise to enter the studio of his father, Jonathan Trego, a well-known painter of genre scenes and portraits.
In 1879 young Trego was enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he won a prize for his famous painting of the Revolutionary War, "The March to Valley Forge." After several years of study at the Academie Julien in Paris, where he exhibited at the Salon, he returned to America acclaimed as one of the great battle painters of the day.
"The Rescue of the Colors" was unveiled at the old Courthouse in Doylestown on October 20, 1899. After the elaborate ceremonies, the artist intended the picture to go on tour to three major cities and was outraged when the Historical Society flatly refused to let it leave town.
He had reached the zenith of his career. Ten years later, in 1909, discouraged by the growing unpopularity of battle painting and by financial difficulties, William Trego committed suicide.
Helen H. Gemmill
The Bucks County Historical Society
84 S PINE ST
DOYLESTOWN PA 18901
RESCUE OF THE COLORS PAINTING
RESCUE OF THE COLORS SKETCH