INCREDIBLE AUTHENTICITY AND PAINSTAKING RESEARCH, MEET THE MAN OFTEN REFERRED TO AS THE FINEST MILITARY ARTIST IN AMERICA DON TROIANI

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You’re often referred to as one of, if not the ‘finest military artists in America today’. What points in  your life have steered you practise to focusing on military artwork, how did you find yourself creating such intricate and authentic military artworks?

It was a combined interest in military history, uniforms , equipment and weapons. I would often see historical works by other artists (past and present) and think , look at all the errors , surely history deserves better treatment. Since I liked to draw and paint the two interests merged into one.  


"Battle of the Thames”.  (The Battle of Moraviantown. Kentucky mounted Volunteers under General William Henry Harrison overrun the British 41st Regiment of Foot  , October 5, 1813) -  Oil on Canvas, 2014

 

You depict American military history from the battles such as the civil wars, what is your favourite period of battle to paint and explore? 

I’ve pretty much concentrated on the period of 1754 to 1865. This is of course the most colorful era but also the most under painted. Many famous battles only represented by a primitive woodcut or engraving. My favorite period is the American Revolution followed by the War of 1812 and French and Indian War. Although I love the Civil War and have concentrated on that for over 30 years I have decided to spend my remaining time working on the early periods instead. 


"Sons Of Erin" (The Irish Brigade advances during the Battle of Antietam , Maryland , 1862) - Oil on Canvas, 1996 

 

The undertaking of these paintings is no flippant thing, you spend months some times years and travel hundreds of miles to ensure accuracy and authenticity in your paintings! Talk us through the process from deciding to paint a battle to the last stroke of the paintbrush. 

I think the best way to answer this is to explain the process for a particular painting. Let’s take General Washington firing the first gun at the siege of Yorktown. The first thing was to gather all the period accounts of the incident, in this case not very many. Next a visit to Yorktown , Virginia to study the battlefield and vicinity (also for several other Yorktown subjects as well). Other historians were consulted for their valuable input and their notes compared with mine.  Archive study produced listings of the types of artillery and other military supplies sent from Philadelphia by ship for the siege operations . This allowed me to accurately portray all the hardware involved in the incident. Also reports of the ammunition and other goods stored in the gun emplacements was very useful. Then I went to Fort Lee New Jersey to photograph a reconstruction of the correct type of cannon. After determining who was present the research on the dress of the individuals was complied. Preliminary sketches were done with pencil in a notebook. Next came posing of all the models . I have a pretty good costume department after 45 years of this which is accurate copies of original garments and accoutrements along with a collection of original weapons. Even still I had to have a few things made specially (the flag) and borrow other items I needed. The models came in shifts over a few weeks , sometimes a few at once. All were completely dressed and equipped. Most likely 8,000 to 10,000 photographs as Each model was posed in many slightly different poses. After that the drawing was made on the canvas and fixed and a wash of oil color applied , in this case probably burnt sienna. The painting then began over the next few months working on different areas as other areas dried. I always do the sky first.  After that I try to get the whole scene roughed in then gradually work up the detail. After completion I put it away for a week then take a look at it upside down to see if anything looks wrong or needs more work.


"Artillery of Independence" (General George Washington fires the first American cannon at the siege of Yorktown, Virginia 1781) - Oil on Canvas, 2013

 

Which has been the most satisfying and interesting to explore and research?

It’s always great fun to explode old myths with solid research. Many times I start with a vision of the incident and after pouring through the research find it was totally different then I imagined it would be. 

 

Which battles would you love to paint? Are there any outside of America you’d like to explore, or perhaps  American battles overseas?

There are many great scenes that need treatment, Stony Point, Germantown, Brandywine and more. I’m sticking with subjects in North America .

"Lancer of Company B" (of the 5th Texas Mounted Rifles at the battle of Valverde , New Mexico 1861) - Watercolor and Gouache on Bristol Board, 2014

 

What works are you creating now, or planning to next? 

I am just finishing up the Boston Massacre and am planning my next Yorktown painting.


"Rhode Island Regt. Private  1781" (Private of the Rhode Island Regiment , Continental Army , 1781) - Watercolor and Gouache on Bristol Board , 2008

 

Have you got any shows coming up?

Never been much of a show person. Most the works are either commissions or sold after completion to individuals or institutions so everything is scattered across the country and a few overseas. Although I’ve had galleries in the past at this stage everything sells right from the studio so no need. The Booth Museum of Western Art in Cartersville, Georgia  has a very large collection of my Civil War paintings on permanent display. It’s a great museum and well worth a visit if in the Atlanta area.  


"Capt. Walter S. Newhall” (The 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry attacks J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate Cavalry at the Battle of Gettysburg , July 1863) - Oil on Canvas , 2015

 

INTERVIEW by HANNAH SMITH

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