- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2002

Peter Waddell, a former New Zealander, enjoys his role as Washington's foremost history painter. The artist recently led a fast-paced tour through his exhibit "Inside the Temple of Liberty: Interiors of the United States Capitol, Paintings by Peter Waddell" at the Octagon Museum.
"I worked two years on depicting the rooms of the famous Capitol, and it was wonderful that 500 people came" for the tour of the show's opening, says Mr. Waddell, 46.
"I've been fascinated with the city since I brought my father, a Civil War buff, here to see Antietam [National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Md.] in 1991. We're surrounded by history here. It's a continuing history and a natural topic," the painter says with a hearty New Zealand accent.
Mr. Waddell may be one of the few artists in the city who support themselves by their art. He shows his work at Anton Gallery in Dupont Circle and produces commissioned work.
He says he was attracted to Washington's classical-style buildings and the city's view of itself as the inheritor of Rome's traditions and art. He describes his own art as "classically based with a dreamy quality."
"Though I like surrealists like Giorgio de Chirico, it's Washington itself that holds that dreaminess," he says. "When you walk around the Mall in the evening, and the sun's going down with no one around, it seems otherworldly."
Mr. Waddell revels in the city's light. The artist says he constantly thinks of the great English painter J.M.W. Turner's saying on his deathbed, "God is light." He has studied the painting of light since he was a youngster.
The artist also has painted the White House, the Rayburn House Office Building and the Washington Monument, but it's the Capitol that captured his heart.
Mr. Waddell says he wanted to make a contribution by painting its little-seen interior rooms.
"The Capitol was a vital part of all aspects of life in Washington in the 19th century, from hosting grand balls to caring for wounded Union troops during the Civil War. Though people everywhere know the Capitol's exterior, relatively few have the chance to visit its extraordinary interiors and exciting history. I wanted to preserve these," he says.
Mr. Waddell was born and raised in Hastings, New Zealand, on the east coast of the North Island. His father owned a small cabinet-making company and his mother was a paralegal. He says his parents and schools encouraged his talent. His teachers directed him to the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, where he studied painting and art history. He also traveled to museums and galleries in Australia and the United Kingdom.
"I was lucky I got the art training in the public schools I did because it's not customary here. There's an early appreciation for art in New Zealand because of the schools," he says.
The painter decided to stay in Washington after seeing the many museums and galleries. He saw painters working at easels in the National Gallery of Art and learned that the gallery had a program for helping artists work from paintings of the great masters.
Mr. Waddell says he greatly profited from copying, especially from the American painter Albert Pinkham Ryder.
Mr. Waddell got a green card in 1995 and is close to becoming a U.S. citizen. "I have the very interesting category of 'Alien of Extraordinary Ability,' where I have to show I make my living by my art," he says.
The artist works out of a small studio above the servants' quarters in the garage building of Georgetown's Tudor Place Historic House and Garden. Mr. Waddell says it is the perfect place for him because there's so much history there. He also enjoys caring for the 1919 Pierce-Arrow car that belonged to Armistead Peter III, the last owner of Tudor Place.
After a short vacation in Turkey, the artist will start a new and different series for his exhibit at the Anton Gallery in November.


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