Artist Peter Waddell Paints D.C. Bird’s Eye Views

“I wanted a fire,” Hastings-born artist Peter Waddell said as he and Washington Post reporter John Kelly gazed upon one of a pair of his monumentally sized paintings.

Waddell’s paintings are bird’s-eye views of Washington – one as it looked in Pierre L’Enfant’s imagination, one as it looked in 1825. They are now on display at the George Washington University Museum until 23 December.

Large the paintings may be – 6 feet wide by 5 feet high – but the details in them are tiny. There are tiny cows grazing on the Mall, tiny sailing ships in the Potomac, tiny pedestrians on the streets.

“I wanted a house on fire,” Waddell said. “But we wanted a historical fire. We couldn’t find one. And it’s hard to get drama at 1/32nd of an inch.”

It’s hard to get drama, but it’s easy to get a cramp. It took Waddell two years to complete the oil-on-canvas paintings. They were commissioned by Albert H. Small, a 93-year-old philanthropist and collector of historical D.C. objects.

The scale is such that Waddell had to render the tiniest details with a delicate, Size 00000 paintbrush.

“Made from the eyelashes of unborn mice,” he joked.

The paintings are the centrepiece of the exhibit called, “Eye of the Bird: Visions and Views of D.C.’s Past”. Before dirigibles and airplanes, before drones and satellites, it was artists, engravers and printmakers who gave dirt-bound Earthlings an idea of what our cities looked like from above.

Waddell, 63, is artist in residence at Tudor Place, an historic Georgetown mansion.

He became a US citizen in 2002.

Original article by John Kelly, The Washington Post, October 22, 2018.

Photo by John Kelly.


Tags: Peter Waddell  Washington D.C.  Washington Post (The)  

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