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Lucien Whiting Powell
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Powell, Lucien Whiting Powell, born 13 December 1846 and died 27 September 1930 at 83 years of age.

Died on Saturday, September 27, 1930 at 8:25 a.m. at Washington Sanitarium (Takoma Park, D. C.) Lucien Whiting Powell, beloved husband of Nan Fitzhugh Powell in the 84th year of his age. Funeral Tuesday, September 30, at 10 a.m. from his studio residence, 1923 G street northeast. Interment Arlington National Cemetery.

The Evening Star, September 27, 1930

Lucien W. Powell, Artist Dies at 84 From Double Pneumonia
Long Internationally Known for His Paintings of Landscapes
Friend, Mrs. John B. Henderson, 87, Also Patient at Sanitarium

Lucien Whiting Powell, eminent Washington artist, whose paintings are to be found wherever landscapes are admired, died in the Washington Sanitarium in Takoma Park at 8:25 o'clock this morning. Mr. Powell, who was in his eighty-fourth year, had been at the institution since September 1. Double pneumonia developed from a lingering illness and proved fatal. His wife, a son and two daughters were with him when he died.

By coincidence, another person dear to the famous artist was near him at the end. Mrs. John B. Henderson, Capital social leader, now 87, a long-time friend and ardent admirer, who has been his patron for many years, is a patient at the sanitarium. She visited with Mr. Powell briefly yesterday. Both seemed to realize that the end was near and as Mrs. Henderson left she kissed her friend good-bye.

Arrangements for the funeral had not been completed this morning at the Washington home of Mr. Powell, 1923 G street. In addition to his widow, he is survived by Mrs. Jessie Lewis Heiskell of Washington and Mrs. Frances Millott of Windber, Pa., daughters, and Lucien Fitzhugh Powell of Washington.

Many of the artist's paintings are to be found in Washington, but a large number are distributed throughout the world. Permanent exhibitions are in the Public Library, Congressional Club, American University and Georgetown University, which has a holy land collection. Mrs. Henderson possesses about 200 of his paintings, which comprise the largest private collection.

"The Afterglow," a picture of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, now in the Corcoran Gallery, and his painting, "Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River," which hanges in the National Art Gallery, are especially well known. The Atlanta Museum of Art has a collection of his paintings. London art brokers distributed Mr. Powell's work to such advantage that he said on one occasion that "the sun never sets" on his pictures.

Native of Virginia

Known as a resident of Washington, Mr. Powell was a native of Virginia, and much of his work was done at his home in Loudon County. He was born December 13, 1846, at Levinworth Manor, Virginia, the estate of his father, John Levin Powell.

At 17 he fought in the Confederate Army with his brothers and after the Civil War journeyed to Philadelphia to study painting under Thomas Moran, master of canyon pictures. His studies took him to New York, Paris and London, and in later years to Italy and the Holy Land. In his travels he added color to his work, but he always regarded himself as an American painter of American subjects. President Roosevelt was one of the first to recognize the worth of his work and he became one of a group fo admirers which in years to come were to include many prominent men and women in this country and abroad.

The Powell family is of Welch origin. The Llandgollen estate at Upperville, Virginia, was granted to the family by the King of England about 1770. There in the historic hunting region, the Powells entertained George Washington and Lafayette on the 10,000 acre estate. The artist's uncle, Cuthbert Powell, made it his home for many years, and today the house which Washington and Lafeyette knew stands on 1,000 acres of the original tract. Three years ago 85 members of the "Powell clan" gathered at the estate for a family reunion and the distinguished artist member delivered an address. Last spring the property passed frorm the family to the ownership of John Hay Whitney, the grandson of the former Secretary of State, and yesterday Mr. Whitney took his bride the former Miss Elizabeth Altemus of Philadelphia to the estate which he had obtained as a bridal gift.

Was Godly Man

Mr. Powell did not have good health as a youth but he overcame this physical handicap. On the occasion of his eighty-first birthday anniversary, he said in an interview that he had had "a very wonderful life." He commented that he was a Godly man, "God," he said, "exists in color, in love and in goodness." Throughout his travels, he said, he had been impressed by "God's mighty work in mountains and sea, in all things showing His handiwork, in flowers and landscapes and His goodness added to all this."

The Evening Star, September 28, 1930

Artist L.W. Powell To Rest in Arlington

Services Will Be Conducted at Studio Residence and Later With Military Tribute

Lucien Whiting Powell, eminent landscape painter of the Capital, who died yesterday after a long illness, will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery Tuesday morning. Funeral services for the artist will be conducted at his studio residence, 1923 G street, by Rev. Hugh T. Stevenson, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, at 10 o'clock. Upon reaching the cemetery, the funeral cortege will be given a military escort and the artist, who was a Confederate veteran of the Civil War, will be buried with a soldier's honor.

A native of Virginia, where he had maintained a home in which he did much of his work, Mr. Powell attained a fame in the art world which is testified to by the presence of his canvansses in virtually every section of the world. His art training, begun at Philadelphia, where he went following the Civil War, carried him to New York, Paris and London and, in later years, to the Holy Land and to Italy. Among the artist's first prominent patrons was President Theodore Roosevelt, while one of his staunchest friends and patrons was Mrs. John B. Henderson, who today owns the largest single collection of his works, some 200 paintings.

Mr. Powell was stricken and was taken to the Washington Sanitarium, September 1. Double pneumonia developed and the master of landscape painting died at 8:25 o'clock yesterday morning. It happens that Mrs.Henderson herself is a patient in the same sanitarium and she was one of Mr. Powell's last visitors. The artist is survived by his wife; two daughters, Mrs. Jessie Lewis Heiskell of Washington and Oxon Hill, Md., and Mrs. Frances Millott of Windber, Pa., and a son, Lucien Fitzhugh.

Powell of Washington. Powell, Margaret A. d. 17 Apr 1863 84 yrs. R82/129
Powell. On the 17th instant, Mrs. Margaret Ann Powell, mother of Grafton Powell, Esq., in the 85th year of her age. Her funeral will take place on Saturday, the 18th at 2 o'clock, from the residence of Mr. John C. Shafer, No. 610 14th street.
Powell, William H. d. 6 Aug 1877 2 yrs. 22 mos. R9/152 Powell. 

On August 6, 1877, at 9:30 a.m., William H. Powell, aged 2 years and 22 days, son of William H. and Elizabeth Powell. Funeral, Wednesday 3 o’clock. Relatives and friends are invited to attend; No. 628 B street southeast.

Powell, William H. d. 2 Nov 1892 47 yrs. R10/151
Powell. On Wednesday, November 2, 1892, at 3:15 o'clock a.m., William H. Powell, in the 48th year of his age.

Dear father, you have gone to rest
And left us all alone;
I know it's for the best.
Your Daughter Mary

Funeral from his late residence, 221 Pennsylvania avenue, Friday, November 4, at 2 o'clock p.m. Relatives and friends invited.

The Evening Star, November 2, 1892
Died at Eighty-Five

William A. Powell, a retired member of the police force, died this morning. He had suffered from rheumatism for a number of years and was retired several years ago. He was about fifty years old and went on the force about 1869. Since his retirement from the police force he has kept a restaurant on Pennsylvania avenue.


Art Career Began With Simple Farm Sketches

Lucien Whiting Powell used to paint his watercolor landscapes in this study at Airwell, shown decorated by its current owner for the holidays. (Lydia Cutter For The Washington Post)


Eugene Scheel
Sunday, December 15, 2002

December 13 was the birth date of Lucien Whiting Powell, the most prolific American landscape painter of the early 20th century. Born near the village of Airmont in 1846, Powell gained fame in the last three decades of his life and died in 1930.

A 1922 Washington Post article said his paintings were "in more [Washington area] homes than the work of any other one painter."

This newspaper clipping, and numerous others undated and unattributed, can be found in a scrapbook that Nan Fitzhugh Powell began in 1910 after articles about her husband became frequent. A few years ago, her family loaned the scrapbook to the Loudoun Museum, owner of one Powell, which copied the contents.

Powell said in a 1926 article that when he was a boy, he sketched turkeys, other farm animals and schoolmates, often "escaping the torments of arithmetic by hiring other boys to do his sums while he drew pictures for them." The farm was the 322-acre Levinworth, whose main house was built in 1835 for Powell's parents, Mary Louise (Grady) and John Levin Powell. The house still stands.

A childhood accident at the farm slightly crippled one of Lucien Powell's legs, but that did not stop the 17-year-old from joining his three older brothers in the Confederate Army. Powell became a Private in Company K of Fitzhugh Lee's 11th Virginia Cavalry and served as a wagoneer and water boy. He continued to sketch, drawing humorous likenesses of fellow soldiers.

Many years later, Powell would parlay his limited war experiences into full-blown Civil War lectures that preceded the hoped-for sales of his paintings. Late-in-life photographs label him "Colonel" and often depict him in a Confederate officer's uniform studded with medals. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery as he requested.

"Colonel Powell" told reporters in 1924 that he saw Gen. Robert E. Lee surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. "I'll never forget Lee's face," the article quoted Powell as saying, but it gave no description of that face. Fitzhugh Lee's troops surrendered at Farmville two days later.

"We were half-starved, and our horses were sick," Powell said. "We had lived on nothing but parched corn and water for days. Lee was careworn and heartbroken and battle wearied. I put down my sword then, for the brush."

In a 1926 interview, Powell said that he returned to Levinworth after the war but that "his health was so shattered that he was unable to do much farm work, and his mother begged him to take up art as a career."

Powell told that reporter that "against his judgment," he agreed. He chose the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied under American landscape painters Thomas and Edward Moran. Powell would follow their style with his realistic and lush-colored oils and watercolors of the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and the American and Canadian West.

Powell next studied in New York, and that helped him when he visited London. He wanted to copy a picture at the National Gallery by English landscape painter Joseph M. William Turner, but the museum director demurred, saying a good copy would take six months.

"I told him I would do it in a week," Powell was quoted as telling an unidentified reporter in the 1920s. "I told him I was from New York and that they wouldn't take six months to do anything in New York."

Powell was influenced by Turner's diffuse and delicate style and began to use an opaque watercolor that could glow in its vividness.

During Powell's honeymoon in 1880 in the Holy Land, Egypt and Italy, he perfected his Turneresque phase in a series of watercolors that evolved from black and white sketches. He always sketched first, then painted.

On their return, the Powells lived in Washington, where he taught painting, and in Loudoun County during the summer. In 1876, Powell purchased a house just west of Levinworth and named it Airwell. He remodeled an outbuilding into a studio.

Airwell became a summer art school. An article in the Hamilton Telephone in July 1895 noted that Washington artists D.C. Messer, Max Weil and Powell had established "a miniature art village," where students with "paint boxes, easels, camp stools and lunch-baskets scour the country in search of motives for canvasses."

Thirty years later, Powell would say, "in revisiting this scene of his early triumphs . . . Dick Brooke, Max Weil, Messer, all the old boys -- I studied with them all. They are all gone. I am the only one left now."

These early triumphs were his Loudoun scenes and portraits. I doubt that more than a dozen remain in the county. Among them are portraits of Quaker educator and historian Samuel Janney, Quaker farmer William Holmes Brown and wife Martha Jane (Pancoast) and a Philomont area farm scene.

Sales receipts, catalogues and other snippets mention but five local works, including a l925 commission "to paint the battlefield of Manassas"; "Virginia Cattle Scene"; "Hibbs Mill," which was "bought by a stranger" for $135 in 1922; and "Spring Scene," sold by Mary Henderson's estate in 1931 for $55. The buyer was Nan Powell, as it was one of her favorite paintings.

"Old bridge at Leesburg, Virginia" was the fifth painting, and an article about its sale quoted a potential buyer as saying, "Now have you got a sketch of that old bridge." Powell answered, "Yes, I have," for he kept rough black and white sketches of all his sold works. "Well," said the future customer, "I want you to paint me one of them, too."

Eileen Vroom, an art historian familiar with Powell's works who lives near Airwell, told me that Powell often rendered several different copies of the same scene if he thought the painting had multiple sales potential.

In another interview, Powell said: "I never paint a picture unless I have an order for it. Art for art's sake is a wonderful theory, but it isn't practicable. . . . I had no desire to starve in a garret."

Sam McMichael, who lived near Airwell, was Powell's driver and mechanic. "He didn't like to drive," McMichael told me, "because he couldn't crank the starter of his Model T due to his bad limp."

As McMichael had driven Powell 50 years before, I now drove him around, and when we stopped at the Ebenezer churches near Bloomfield and the Ketoctin Church near Woodgrove, he told me about their now-famous interiors.

The Rev. Edward Beverly Lake had commissioned two of Powell's well-known Loudoun works, which are quite unlike any other of the artist's renderings. Powell and his family attended Ebenezer Baptist Church. Lake felt that the plain 1856 interior needed some sprucing up and asked Powell to apply some designs to its walls.

Powell did, with a trompe l'oeil apse that makes the flat wall appear to recede into the distance. Lake was so pleased that a few years later, he had Powell render a "three-dimensional" apse onto another of his churches, Ketoctin, built in 1854.

Both apses are plain, yet eye-catching, drawing an onlooker's gaze to the pulpit. The Ebenezer apse featured Greek columns and entablature because the structure is of that style. The Ketoctin Church featured a dove flying in a sky of varying blues.

McMichael also told me that Powell, a good friend of Henry Hibbs, the miller, painted the underbellies of the adjacent three arches of Hibbs' Bridge. Highway department repairs either removed the paintings or covered them with concrete.

Powell's renderings in Loudoun may have ended about 1900. In 1930, Mary Henderson, a wealthy Washington collector and art connoisseur, told a newspaper reporter that after she saw a Powell in a D.C. gallery, she said: "This man is the American Turner. I must know him."

After buying several Powells, she became his patron, setting up a studio for him at her palatial Henderson's Castle, now destroyed, on 16th Street NW. McMichael told me that Powell said of Henderson, "She told me what to paint, and I painted it."

Powell's canvasses under her patronage were mainly of Jerusalem and the Holy Land and Venice. Eileen Vroom told me she thought Powell that had painted 65 "Venices."

Winchester dentist A.C. Kiczales, a recent collector of Powells, gave one to the Loudoun Museum about 30 years ago. Alluding to the many near-copies of the scene, he told me at the time that his only regret was "that I didn't like the painting more."

Powell's other favorite foreign subjects were scenes of other regions of Italy, Switzerland, Egypt, Greece and Turkey. The Matterhorn is depicted in one of his most famous European canvasses. A series of Holy Land watercolors, now at Georgetown University, are notable for their rendering of ancient Biblical sites. A large "Mid-Ocean" canvas was the feature of one of his exhibitions, held aboard a transatlantic ocean liner.

Powell's fame spread quickly after 1903, when he won the coveted "Parsons Prize" given by the Society of Washington Artists for the year's outstanding painting, "Along Giudecca Canal, Venice."

His canvasses soon graced the collections of President Theodore Roosevelt, an archbishop of Canterbury, a lord high chancellor of England, countless other notables and collectors and many U.S. museums, including Washington's Corcoran and National galleries.

One newspaper reported that he sold $2,000 worth of paintings at one sale in 1922, which Powell advertised as "a great jubilee over my fifty third as a globe trotter, painter, talker and lecturer." The average price for a Powell was then $150; a typical Washington worker then made $2 to $3 a day, a Loudoun farmer half that.

At an auction of Powell's works in March 1973, two Grand Canyon views owned by FBI Director Herbert Hoover sold for $1,500 and $2,200. Vroom estimates their worth today between $12,000 to 15,000 and places the total number of existing Powells at about 1,000.

I would add several hundred more to that figure. Several of his works were never signed, McMichael told me.

Powell and Henderson, his benefactress, died within a year of each other, and both spent their last days at Takoma Park Hospital. She owned more than 200 of his works. One newspaper reported their last meeting: "Sensing his death was near, she kissed him on the forehead for the last time."

Eugene Scheel is a Waterford historian and mapmaker.


Posted: 15 December 2002  Updated: 27 May 2003 Updated: 6 September 2004 Updated: 22 January 2006