Paintings, Paintings on the Wall, Look Around You, History Calls

The Passing of Arthur, Photo by  Elle Rinaldi/The Choate News

The Passing of Arthur, Photo by Elle Rinaldi/The Choate News

Although most famous (or perhaps infamous) for its food, the Hill House Dining Hall holds another purpose: displaying historical art. Atop the fireplace facing the senior section, a circular maritime painting stands peacefully. On the other side of the fireplace perches a rectangular painting with similar themes of ships and nautical travel.

The circular piece that faces the senior section, titled The Passing of Arthur, is bordered by the words “The Old Order Changeth, Yielding Place to New and God Fulfills Himself in Many Ways.” The painting is based off the final scene from Lord Tennyson’s idyll of the same name. In this scene, according to the Archives, Knight of the Round Table Sir Bedivere carrying the wounded King Arthur “down to a black barge, appearing in the distance, with the three queens: Faith, Hope, and Charity.”

Artist Mr. Robert von Vorst Sewell created the painting as part of a 12-part series depicting the legend of King Arthur and his kingdom. The series was commissioned by Headmaster George St. John, who purchased all twelve paintings for $8,000.

The paintings were originally given to Mr. and Mrs. Boudinot Keith P ’1911, the parents of Elisha Boudinot Keith ’1911, who had been killed in World War I. The Keiths later gave the paintings to Choate in their son’s honor.

The Passing of Arthur has remained mounted over the fireplace since the Dining Hall was first completed in 1914. Choate archivist Ms. Judy Donald explained, “From the minute the painting arrived on campus, it has not budged: it has stayed there for over a century.”

Although The Passing of Arthur is prominently displayed in the dining hall, the other paintings in the series can be difficult to spot on campus. Of the original 12 Sewell pieces commissioned, only seven remain on at Choate today. Excalibur, the Sword and Geraint and Enid can be found in the Andrew Mellon Library basement; Flight of Lanceolot & Guinevere, in the Memorial House common room; The Last Tournament, on the library’s second floor; and the final two can be found in the Archives. They are Arthur’s Last Fight and another piece named The Passing of Arthur, making it the second painting on file in the Archives by that name.

Similar in theme and style to Mr. Sewell’s series is the rectangular painting facing the sophomore and junior section of the Dining Hall, painted by Frank O. Walther ’28 during the summer after his graduation. Appreciative of Choate’s myriad visual art opportunities, Walther gifted the piece to commemorate his time at the School. Walther’s piece is one of few permanent art displays on campus made by a Choate student. Titled The Old Clipper Ship, the painting distinctly matches the themes that Mr. Sewell showed in his The Passing of Arthur. Shown slightly off center is the ship Galatea, traveling though slightly choppy waves, surrounded by a misty sky. The bright, realistic painting has been featured in the Dining Hall since its installation.

Despite their relative obscurity among the Choate community, masterful works of art dominate many buildings on campus. Not even the lack of lighting could sway the astute observer from noticing their intricate details.

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