About the Artist: James Gilchrist Benton (1820–1881)

Benton did not serve in the War with Mexico, as Edward Everett did, but was posted to San Antonio at the war’s end to serve as inspector of arsenals at the ordnance depot there. A graduate of West Point and a specialist in the design and testing of small-scale artillery equipment, Benton was also trained as a topographical draftsman. He applied his drawing skills to recording the scenery in and around San Antonio during the three years he was stationed there. He was a sensitive observer and possessed an artist’s eye, for his drawings are more than just reportorial vignettes: they are poetic studies of the romance of San Antonio evoked by its old Spanish architecture and its mix of ethnically diverse people.

The sketches shown here are part of a large group of Texas views gathered together in an album that was perhaps intended as source material for a monumental panorama of Texas that Benton produced in collaboration with a New Orleans artist, Charles L. Smith. The panorama was exhibited in New Orleans in 1852. It was described as featuring views of the missions around San Antonio, views perhaps derived from Benton’s drawings. The unwieldy panorama painting did not survive, so we cannot know the precise role that Benton’s drawings played in its conception, but the variety of images that he produced of people and places in San Antonio would have been essential to lending accurate details and local color to any scene.

Benton left San Antonio in 1852, but his duties as arsenal inspector took him to places throughout the American South, and he continued to make drawings of the people and picturesque sites he encountered.

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