Artist's Notes about the classic painting, "The Prayer
at Valley Forge," by Arnold Friberg, RSA.
Arnold Friberg writes, "Since I was a boy, I have revered
General Washington. At age twelve I drew what I thought a fine
picture of him astride his white horse. Along with learning
the American legend of his praying at Valley Forge, this deep
inspiration of boyhood was never to leave me.
And so it was that I waited many years to picture him again,
in prayer now, in the snow, dismounted from his strong horse
- only this time in the full power and richness of oil colors.
To prepare for this painting, to insure accuracy in trees and
landscape, I made a pilgrimage to Valley Forge, in the dead
of winter. In the summer the place is filled with visitors.
But now, in the snows of February, it was deserted, the wind
moaning through the great trees - silent, lonely, cold. It was
a cold that chilled to the bone, a cold that froze my fingers
until I could no longer sketch nor even snap my camera.
To insure accuracy in man-made things, I sought out whatever
museums, collections, libraries, or informed individuals could
offer on horse gear or uniform. At the Smithsonian Military
History Museum, I made minutely accurate sketches from the very
uniform actually worn by Washington.
As for facial likeness, I studied every portrait ever sketched,
carved, or painted from life, but always keeping in mind how
cold and rawboned he must have looked during that winter encampment.
But such research, vital as it is, provides only physical facts.
What I really tried for was, through the medium of paint, to
recall the pain, the cold of that cruel winter of 1777-78. I
sought to pay tribute to the tall and heavy-burdened man who
alone held our struggling nation together.
For while the British grew fat and warm and well fed in Philadelphia,
it was the man Washington who stayed with his starving and freezing
army through that dreadful winter at Valley Forge. It was in
desperation that he wrote to the governor of New Jersey, "Our
sick naked, our well naked, our unfortunate men in captivity
naked!" With his own countrymen indifferent to their condition,
where else could he turn but to God?
It should be plain to anyone that this is a symbolic picture,
rather than a historically recorded event. The well known American
legend is without documenation. But from Washington's own words
there can be no doubt of his deep and humble dependence upon
whom he chose to call "that all wise and powerful Being
on whom alone our success depends."
It is my hope that coming through this picture will once again
whisper the spirit of Valley Forge, of suffering and devotion
and pain, of liberty, and of the hand of God in the affairs