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Williamsburg, Va.: South View

1859-1862
Origin: America, Virginia, Williamsburg
Primary support: 11 3/4 x 65 1/4in. (29.8 x 165.7cm) and Framed: 13 1/4 x 67 1/4 x 1 3/8in.
Pencil on wove paper
Purchased through the intercession of Miss Mary Wall Christian, Williamsburg, VA from four of her relatives: Mrs. R. L. Gilliam, Sr., Mrs. A. J. Broughton, Mrs. Lelia C. Lawson, and Mrs. Julia C. Comins.
Acc. No. 1956.202.1
The artist's fairly accurate perspective indicates that he stood on Eastern State Hospital property in order to create his remarkable panoramic view of Williamsburg. Graham's competency suggests that he may have passed many hours sketching during the nearly twenty-three years he spent as a hospital inmate, but no other works by him are known. The details of his south view of the town -- a long, low, monochromatic distant view of various structures with a few cows and trees shown in the middle ground -- are quite small, but their precision has led architectural historians to identify many structures with assurance. A lower margin reserve bears lettering.
The 1-inch grain-painted cyma reversa frame with gilded line is possibly original.






A long, low, monochromatic, distant view of various structures visible on the horizon line, with a few cows and trees shown in the middle ground. A lower margin reserve bears lettering.
The 1-inch grain-painted cyma reversa frame with gilded liner is possibly original.
Label:Correspondence with W. R. Chitwood of Wytheville, Virginia, provided valued biographical information concerning the museum's pencil drawing of Williamsburg which is exhibited here.

Graham was born in Wythe County, Virginia, the son of John and Mary Crocket Graham. He grew up to be a farmer and apparently exhibited normal behavior until about the age of twenty-three, when he fell from a horse. Thereafter, he suffered epileptic-like attacks and became known for erratic and paranoid behavior. On March 31, 1855, he opened gunfire in the barroom of the Boyd Hotel in Wytheville, wounding several men and killing a local merchant, William H. Spiller. Newspaper coverage of Graham's subsequent trial indicates that he was in love with Spiller's daughter and thought Spiller had said something insulting.

Graham was declared insane and sent to Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg in November of 1855. He remained there until his death March 21, 1878, almost twenty-three years later. His panoramic depiction of the town of Williamsburg is his only known drawing.

The artist's fairly accurate perspective indicates that he stood on Eastern State Hospital property in order to create his view. The appearance of the Wren Building dates the drawing rather accurately, since the two conspicuous Gothic towers on it were added after the structure burned in 1859, and they were not replaced after a second burning in 1862. The building is shown here above the letters "IA" in "WILLIAMS BURG."

Other buildings that are readily recognizable include a group of Civil War houses, Brafferton Hall, the President's House of the College of William and Mary, Griffin House, two Eastern State Hospital buildings, Bruton Parish Church, the Greenhow-Repiton Brick Office, the Courthouse of 1770, the Powder Magazine, the Robert Carter Nicholas House (since razed), Tazewell Hall (since moved), and Chiswell House.
Provenance:It appears that the drawing has never left the town it depicts. File notes state that it was presented to John Spencer Charles (1851-1930) of Williamsburg, although it is not known when nor by whom. The work then descended to Charles's daughter, Mrs. Hodges M. Christian, thence to her daughter, Mary Wall Christian. Through the intercession of the latter, the piece was acquired by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1956 from four of Miss Christian's relatives [nieces?]: Mrs. R. L. Gilliam, Sr.; Mrs. A. J. Broughton; Mrs. Lelia C. Lawson; and Mrs. Julia C. Comins.
Inscription(s):In pencil in script in the lower left corner is "J A Graham." In pencil in block letters in the lower margin is "WILLIAMS BURG, VA.: SOUTH VIEW," followed by the very small letters "A.D."