(Written on November 2, 2023)
New Hampshire State Representative Peter Petrigno mentioned in a Facebook post last week that reparation work is being done on the massive Civil War painting with a Milford connection that hangs in the state house. That sent me to the archives to see what I could learn of John Kenney, the Milford man who once owned the painting. And that, in turn, sent me down a bit of a researching rabbit hole to find the original artist.
But first to Mr. Kenney who purchased the painting in his hometown of Lowell in the early 1900s, and for many years, displayed it in his Milford home. Kenney had an interesting life. He was a sheriff, he was the longtime owner of the Milford Inn, and he could even boast of being a New England whist champion. But most of all, he was best known around town as a prominent veteran and buff of the Civil War. Kenney had been present at Pickett’s Charge, and in 1913, he gave a number of lectures around Milford on the war and his experiences, with the painting on display as the perfect backdrop.
Apparently the mural was exhibited for some years in the Milford town hall, was lost for decades in storage, and finally, was rediscovered and donated to the state house. All that got me wondering, who was the original painter? The plaque below the work in Concord states that the artist is unknown but that the painting was copied from a portion of French artist Paul Philippoteaux’s renowned Gettysburg Cyclorama. The mystery artist apparently “improved the historical accuracy of the scene.”
Could the trusty Milford Cabinet archives give any clues as to the identity of the painter? After searching through dozens of articles related to Kenney, I finally stumbled upon a Cabinet article from June 1913 asserting that “the painting now owned by Mr. Kenney…was painted a good many years ago by Gen. Mulholland.” This is the lone Cabinet reference to any “Gen. Mulholland”, but a wider search turned up a late 19th century painter named St. Clair Augustine Mulholland who was also a Civil War veteran and who was indeed often referred to as “General Mulholland.” Apparently the general studied art in Italy and became quite well-known for his oils and watercolors — some have been auctioned for tens of thousands of dollars. It seems very possible that he and the “unknown painter” are one in the same.
The restoration in progress.