Custer’s Last Rally, 1881, John Mulvany ‘s epic 11 x 20 foot oil painting will sell at auction on June 10 at Heritage Auctions, part of the company’s Legends of The Wild West Signature® Auction. The painting, a truly blockbuster achievement, represents one of the great “One-Hit Wonders” of American painting and a cultural phenomenon in its time. The painting is expected to bring $200,000+ and is part of a special Custer grouping in the auction.
That’s right 11 x 20 feet! It’s a monster artwork.
For some years Mulvany scratched out a living as an artist, mainly doing portraits. In 1879, he was inspired to paint a definitive scene of the Little Bighorn battle, in which George Armstrong Custer perished with his entire command. Custer is strong and determined as the focal point with all of his adjutants, facing death bravely, with defiance, and hopeless surrounded by scores of attacking Indians. It took two years to complete and immediately achieved wide recognition. The first major exhibition of the work occurred in New York City, where it created a sensation.
As Tom Slater notes: There were no movies back then, certainly, and no pictures of the battle, and yet Little Bighorn loomed huge in the recent memory of the nation. People were simply clambering to see this painting as it brought to life all the frantic combat which the public had envisioned at Little Bighorn.
Large crowds paid an admission price of 50 cents (25 cents for children) – no small sum in its day – to gaze, mesmerized, at the painting. Walt Whitman waxed poetic about it in a published review; Custer’s widow, Libbie, was said to have swooned at the sight of it. A popular print of the painting was made and sold and, for a decade, periodic additional exhibitions helped provide Mulvany with a livelihood.
Over the years it has had periods of exhibition interspersed with long years in storage. In 1926, it was on display at the Heinz Ocean City Pier in Ocean City, New Jersey. In the 1950s it was shown for several years at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and, most notably, in 1967 at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. In recent years it has been intermittently on the market, though, always with a seven-figure price tag.
In 2009, eminent art appraiser Paul Rossi, former director of the Gilcrease Museum, declared the work to be “an invaluable collector’s piece in American Western art and a true national treasure.”
Custer’s Last Stand made the front page of the Dallas Morning News online version! Click HERE to read on.
SOLD for $239,000 including buyer’s premium.