Batesville artist Tim Wright presented a watercolor portrait of Claudius Crozet to Crozet Library April 15, giving it versions of both known likenesses of him. The portrait is done from a daguerreotype taken of Crozet during the 1850s, at the time he was directing the construction of the Blue Ridge Tunnel. The original photograph is in the possession of Virginia Military Institute, where Crozet served as the school’s first rector. Educated at France’s famed Ecole Polytechnique himself, Crozet is regarded as one of VMI’s three founders, and he designed the dress uniform the Keydets wear to this day. The library already has a print of a portrait of Crozet done sometime later, the original of which is also at VMI. Crozet died in Richmond in 1864.
Wright, who said he has no formal training in art, has done about 100 portraits of historical figures, about 25 from the Civil War era, as well as many taken from photographs of American Indians that date from the last years of the 19th century.
Wright said he paints the portraits to promote awareness of the subject’s significance. He said he would donate 25 percent of every sale of the Crozet image to the Build Crozet Library fund.
The portraits tend to have more grey and brown tones, he said, to convey the qualities of the photographs he works off of.
“I think everybody has a story to tell. A portrait can bring a lot of people who have been forgotten back to life,” he said. He is particularly drawn to photos taken by Edward Curtis, famous as a photographer of Indian tribes in the West.
“I like to be able to bring out the expressions and mood of the person I’m painting so the viewer can see the life and mind of the person.” He said he paints about a dozen portraits a year, in his spare time from his job as a home inspector. Wright is also a furniture and cabinetmaker and built his house.
“It’s not a loose watercolor. I build colors and I work surfaces over three or four times,” he said. “In my paintings, the closer you get, the more detail you see. If my painting is not right, it will look wrong the farther you back away from it. A loose painting looks better at a distance.
“I’ve never studied under anyone, but I’ve painted ever since I was a kid. I picked up watercolors in 2008. When I started out as a furniture maker I had excellent teachers and they taught me the principles behind design. It’s a blessing to be able to paint. It brings contentment and joy to make things people appreciate.”
When he decided to do a portrait of Crozet to make a personal contribution to the new library, he investigated Crozet’s life. “I read up on him to do it. I didn’t realize how intelligent he was. Jefferson called him the most brilliant mathematician in North America. He was something.”
Wright’s watercolors are displayed at Valley Green Gallery in Nellysford and Gray Hawk Designs in White Hall. He also has a website, timwrightwatercolorportraits.com. He does take commissions and makes portraits from old family photographs. His prints, which he makes himself to ensure their quality, sell for around $100.