Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Interesting Finds in the Registrar's Office

By: Christine Olsen, Registrar

As registrar, my office serves as a holding area for artwork. On the rare occasion that I get a visitor in my office, there is one particular painting from our permanent collection I am temporarily storing that nearly everyone comments on but I knew nothing about. So, I thought a blog was in order.
It is truly a unique piece with vibrant colors and, well, interesting imagery. This oil on canvas painting (framed measurements H. 44 ¾ x W. 54 ¾ x D. 1 ¾) titled The Conqueror on the White Horse Rides to Battle is by painter and evangelist preacher Reverend McKendree Robbins Long (1888-1976). The painting depicts scenes from the Book of Revelation, the last chapter of the Christian Bible in which there is a description of the catastrophic sequence of events that lead to the end of the world, also known as the Apocalypse. Labels on the painting’s reverse quote lines from Chapters 4 and 6 specifically; these are the scenes that are depicted in the painting.

In Chapter 4, John sees a vision of heaven with four living creatures standing in the presence of God at his throne along with the 24 elders and angels. In the painting, only one living being, the eagle, is depicted in the foreground. The elders and angels are in the background to the right of God. “The first of these living beings was in the form of a lion, the second looked like an ox, the second had the face of a man, and the fourth the form of an eagle with wings spread out as though in flight. Each of these living beings had six wings and the central sections of their wings were covered with eyes. Day after day and night after night they kept saying ‘Holy Holy Holy Lord, God Almighty, the one who was, and is, and is to come’”. Revelations 4: 7-8.

In Chapter 6, the Lamb of God opens the “seals” which are divine judgments upon the world by God, with the first seal signifying (political and military) conquest of the (nations of the) world. It is in this chapter that the four horsemen of the Apocalypse ride, bringing destruction. The first rider is on a white horse with a bow and crown, representing Conquest (the other horsemen represent War, Famine and Death). In the painting, Jesus representing the Lamb of God is opening the first of the seals and the white horseman is in the foreground. “As I watched, the Lamb broke the first seal and began to unroll the scroll. Then one of the four living beings with a voice that sounded like thunder said ‘Come’! I looked and there in front of me was a white horse, its rider carried a bow and a crown was placed upon his head; he road out to conquer in many battles and win the war”. Revelation 6: 1-2.

Note the presence of Hitler, Caesar, Bonaparte, Kings of France England and Spain, and Genghis Khan standing by a lake of fire and brimstone in the right background. This is reminiscent of one of Long’s most well known paintings “Apocalyptic Scene with Philosophers and Historical Figures” in which Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler are writhing in agony in a lake of fire with Darwin, Einstein and others awaiting a similar fate. Long often combined contemporary culture and politics into his religious themed paintings so as to bring ancient prophecy into a modern context for the viewer.
Reverend McKendree Robbins Long (1888-1976) was a native of Statesville, N.C. He was an alumnus of Davidson College in N.C., and a student at the Art Students League in N.Y where he studied under painter and illustrator F. Luis Mora. He further honed his skills under the Hungarian portrait painter Sir Philip de Laszlo at Sandow’s Curative Institute in London, where he was greatly influenced by the work of John Singer Sergeant. After returning to the United States in 1913 at the age of 25, he took a relatively unsuccessful turn at being a professional artist, painting portraits, landscapes and still lifes. He finally abandoned this pursuit in 1922 in favor of a vocation in the Presbyterian ministry. His views on religion became progressively conservative over the years, however, ultimately leading him in 1935 to become an evangelist minister in the Baptist church. He became known for his literal interpretation of the scripture, preaching fiery gospels to filled assemblies at tent revivals, and writing hymns about humanity’s certain destruction and the coming of the Apocalypse.
His religious zeal fueled his return to painting in the 1950s when he began illustrating the biblical text of the Book of Revelations. Our painting is dated to 1962, fitting perfectly into this timeline. It wasn’t until after his death in 1976 that his works were properly recognized by the art world. He was tagged as a “visionary” or “outsider artist,” a name for predominantly southern (mostly self taught) artists who were outside of the larger art establishment.

I was surprised and pleased to find out so much interesting information about this painting and its artist. Now when I am asked about this painting, I have an interesting story to tell!
You can check out other articles on this unique and complex artist, his artwork, and the handful of exhibitions that have featured his works, at these websites:


Dave Buddle said...

Fascinating paintings. I like seeing images of John's Revelation, which is chockful of images. Thanks for providing the links for more info. Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

Robbins Long's Grandson:http://www.benlongfineart.com/bio.php
Here is my decipherment of one of his fresco's at the Bank of America HQ:


Ben Long may be a traitor.

Anonymous said...



Blog Widget by LinkWithin