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Henry Arthur McArdle was born in the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast, in June 1836. He moved to Maryland in the USA with his family during his teen years. There, the young artist began his formal education at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.
The American Civil War began, and with this, McArdle was employed as a cartographer by American Confederate general Robert Edward Lee. The artist worked on this meticulous craft until the end of the war in 1865. After the end of the War, McArdle moved to Washington County, Texas, in a community called Independence. He then dedicated his career to teaching art the Baylor Female College, which is now the Baylor University.
During his time in Texas, he answered to the name Harry McArdle. The painter also got married while living in the lone star state to a woman named Jennie Smith. His production would mainly center around the history of Texas. He concluded a painting entitled Lee at the Wilderness in which he collected information from members of the Confederate Army's shock troop, the Texas Brigade, to understand and portray what happened in the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness.
McArdle worked for influential patrons, like Lawrence Sullivan Ross, the governor of Texas. Ross commissioned a painting from Henry for the capitol building, to a portrait of Jefferson Finis Davis. He later moved to the City of San Antonio, which he continued working with historical paintings. The artist's most celebrated paintings are the 1875 Dawn of Alamo and The Battle of San Jacinto, done in 1895 and portraying Sam Houston.
The original painting Dawn of Alamo was destroyed in 1881 in a fire that occurred in the Texas State Capitol, where it was hanging. The artist completed a second version of the painting, which included the image of Davy Crockett, William Travis, and James Bowie - causing controversy. Today, scholars see this kind of depiction in a negative light, for glorifying these political figures. Both paintings can be found in the Texas State Capitol's Senate chamber.
Henry re-married in 1871 with Lacy Dunnington, after becoming widowed. The couple had five children together. Lacy passed away in June 1907, and Henry died about eight months later, in 1908.