The Prayer At Valley Forge

Arnold Friberg, American Artist (1913-2010)

Artist’s Note on the Painting by Arnold Friberg

Since I was a boy I have revered George Washington. At age 12 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 from boyhood days was never to leave me.

And so it was that I waited many years to picture him again, now in prayer, in the snow, dismounted from his strong horse, only this time pictured large, in the full power and richness of oil colors on canvas.

To prepare for this painting, to insure accuracy in trees and landscape, I made a pilgrimage to Valley Forge, in the dead of winter. 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 authenticity in man made things, I sought out whatever museums, collections, libraries, or informed individuals could offer on clothing or horse gear. At the Smithsonian Military History Museum I made minutely accurat sketches from the very uniform actually worn by Washington. Also I sketched his sword, spurs, bit and stirrups, still preserved at Mount Vernon and at Valley Forge Museum.

Thus, so far as historical delving goes, I believe this picture to be as faithful as is reasonable possible. For Washington’s likeness, I studied every portrait sketched, carved, or painted of him during his lifetime. But I had to keep in mind that such likenesses were mosting done several years after the ordeal at Valley Forge, and so I tried to recall rather how cold and raw boned he must have looked during that winter at Valley Forge.

But such research, vital as it is, provides only the physical facts. What I really tried for was, through the medium of oil paint, to recall the pain, the cold of that cruel winter of 1777-1778, and to pay tribute to the tall and heavy-burdened man who alone held the 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 arm through the dreadful winter at Valley Forge. It was in desperation that he wrote 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 could he turn but to God?

It should be plain to anyone that this is a symbolic picture, rather than a minutely provable museum reconstruction. We have heard oft-repeated historical testimony of Isaac Potts, who witnessed Washington at prayer. But from Washington’s own words there can be no doubt of his deep and humble dependence upon who he chose to call “that all wise and powerful Being on whom alone our success depends.”

It is my fervant hope and prayer that coming through this picture will once again whisper the spirit of Valley Forge, of suffering, devotion, and pain, of yearning for liberty, and of the hand of God in the affairs of men.

Arnold Friberg

Amazon.com offers a nice variety of framed and unframed options for your home/office. Below are a couple of the options. See Prayer at Valley Forge on Amazon >>

27″ w x 17″ h Textured Gallery Print ready for framing
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35″ w x 25″ h Framed
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