The Picture Over the Door: N. C. Wyeth Illustrates the Civil War

President Lincoln

Growing up, our neighbors had a print hung over the door that led into the hallway of their brick bungalow in Oklahoma City. I was pretty young, and not very tall, but I could see the image in the old, dark frame well enough to know that it was a man on horseback, facing to my right. I thought he might be a knight or a Crusader, but I never asked anyone. I had seen similar pictures in books about knights that my dad got me at the library, but none that looked exactly the same. Then we moved to California, and I filed the image away in my mind, knowing I would recognize it instantly if I ever saw it again.

As an adult, I had given up hope of ever finding it. I thought it might have been a Pre-Raphaelite image, but I never found it in any of the collections I pored over. Apparently I had just been looking in the wrong places.

N C Wyeth

Newell Convers Wyeth was an American artist and illustrator. As a young man he studied with Howard Pyle at Pyle’s School of
Illustration Art in 1902. At the turn of the century, hand-drawn illustration was the preferred method of interpretation for both books and magazine articles and covers. Photography did not yet predominate as an illustrative medium, and this created a truly “golden age” of American illustration. Wyeth quickly found his own style, differing from Pyle’s in technique. Where Pyle painted in great detail, Wyeth tended toward a looser style, with shadowy, moody backgrounds. By 1903 he was working professionally as an illustrator, beginning his career with a bucking bronco on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1903. He also illustrated books.

General Grant
“Stonewall” Jackson









Since this isn’t usually an art blog, I will simply share some of his work with you, and mention that I was reminded of Wyeth when ECW reviewed Jeffrey Hunt’s Meade and Lee After Gettysburg, which can be found at When I saw the cover of Hunt’s book, I remembered how much I loved  Wyeth’s work, and was pleased that so many images were available on line. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do, especially the portraits of the generals.

As I looked over the pictures and drawings, choosing ones for this post, I found it: the picture over the door. It was not a knight in shining armor on a gaily-caparisoned steed. It is an anxious Civil War soldier on a tired horse. It is an illustration from a book by Mary Johnston called The Long Roll, and I was lucky enough to find a copy of this book on eBay. It is my picture, and yes, I knew it as soon as I saw it.

“On Picket,” by NC Wyeth

8 Responses to The Picture Over the Door: N. C. Wyeth Illustrates the Civil War

  1. I’m a huge fan of N.C. Wyeth too, but I have to point out that you’ve credited him with a piece he didn’t paint. The painting of the VMI Cadets was done by Tom Lovell who was part of the last generation of “golden age” illustrators. He did some great Civil War related work too. His depiction of “The Crater” is one of my favorites and really captures the horror of that battle.

    1. Peter–thanks so much for noting this. I was going to remove the image, but decided just to leave it, along with your comment. I had some issues trying to get the artwork properly identified, so I wasn’t even surprised. I never did get a picture of Lee that was not with him and his troops, so I might have missed a Lee portrait as well. If you know of one, please let me know. And now I will check out Tom Lovell! Thanks for the good eye.

  2. I too am an admirer of Wyeth and Pyle. The painting called “The Picket,” I has seen listed as “The Vidette.” Thanks for the article.

    1. David–I also saw “The Scout” as a possible title. In The Long Roll, on the page between 642 and 643, the illustration is titled “The Vedette.” A little different spelling, and I honestly can’t tell if this is a Union or Confederate soldier. The kept would indicate that he is Union, but the text is about a Confederate out on patrol–or at least that is what I think it is . . . the author has a pretty convoluted storytelling style.

  3. Some years ago I visted the Brandywine River Museum, which houses Andrew Wyeth’s work, and was thrilled to see several of N. C. Wyeth’s and Pyle’s works exhibited there. Great Stuff.

    1. The Brandywine River Museum was one of my go-tos when I lived in Baltimore. A lovelier place would be difficult to imagine. If anyone lives near there, a piece on this museum would be a good post, I think.

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