By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Starting today, visitors to John Paul Jones Arena can admire a piece of art that the University hopes will inspire those who represent UVa in athletic competition, as well as reflect their fighting spirit.
An 8-by-10½-foot painting, titled “The Battle of Flamborough Head,” now hangs in the arena’s main concourse, adjacent to the main lobby, above the donor wall outside section 309.
The oil-on-canvas painting, by Dean Mosher, depicts a battle fought during the Revolutionary War on Sept. 23, 1779, off the coast of Yorkshire, England. During this fight, John Paul Jones, captain of the Bonhomme Richard, was said to have defiantly offered this memorable response to an English captain who asked if Jones planned to surrender:
“I have not yet begun to fight!”
That famous quotation already is inscribed on a wall at the arena’s eastern end. Now UVa has added another link to the man considered to be the father of the American navy.
It can be confusing for those not well-versed in the arena’s history, but John Paul Jones the naval hero is no relation to the arena’s namesake. That man is John Paul “Jack” Jones, a 1948 graduate of UVa’s School of Law, whose son, Paul Tudor Jones, donated more than $35 million to help build the arena.
Paul Tudor Jones, a 1976 graduate of UVa, purchased the painting from Mosher and donated it to his alma mater. UVa’s colors, blue and orange, dominate the painting, as chance would have it.
The Joneses were among the guests Friday night at a private gathering during which the painting was unveiled. Others included UVa President Teresa Sullivan, players and coaches from UVa’s basketball teams, football coach Mike London, Mosher’s wife and children, and Dr. James C. Bradford and Peter Reaveley, two of the naval scholars with whom Mosher worked to ensure his painting was as historically accurate as possible.
To the group, Mosher spoke about the battle and its significance and described the methods he used to painstakingly create the painting in his studio in Fairhope, Ala.
In an interview Thursday evening at the arena, Mosher talked about the painting he finished on April 12, 1997, about 17 months after he began.
“It really has been an interesting road, and this is certainly a high point for me,” Mosher said. “I’m honored to be here.
“I’m hoping this will be a piece of inspiration. If you really believe in what you’re fighting for, look what our great American heroes went through.”
A interactive kiosk near the painting provides information on the battle and its historical impact, on John Paul Jones, who is buried at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and on Mosher and the extraordinary steps he took to get the details correct.
“None of us can go back exactly in history,” he said, “but I’ve tried to come as close as I possibly can to going back to every single solitary detail.”
Mosher grew up on Mobile Bay, Ala., and his other historical paintings include “The Battle of Mobile Bay.” That took place in August 1864 and was the last major naval battle of the Civil War.
The hero of the battle was a Union admiral, David Farragut, to whom is attributed a quotation as famous as John Paul Jones’ — “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
Another Mosher painting — a portrait of John Paul Jones titled “I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight!” — hangs at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Paul Tudor Jones learned of the “The Battle of Flamborough Head” painting from UVa alumni Nance Fleming and Jim Wilmoth, who run Patina Gallery in Fairhope. Jones asked Jon Oliver, UVa’s executive associate director of athletics, to visit Fairhope and look at the painting.
Oliver arrived planning to spend 30 minutes with Mosher. Three hours later, Oliver was still with the artist, whose passion for his work is palpable. When he left Mosher’s home, Oliver called Paul Tudor Jones and said he thought the painting might enhance John Paul Jones Arena.
“After getting an entire education about the painting and the battle, it really impressed me in terms of the things that Admiral Jones had to go through to win that battle,” Oliver said, “and I saw a true alliance with what we’re trying to do on a daily basis in terms of our basketball teams, and all of our sports.
“You take on a challenge and you face adversity and you’ve got to find a way to overcome that adversity to be successful. When you think about that battle, there’s no greater challenge than what he went through, and it kind of ties back to what we’re trying to do.
“The association between the two names is the first tie, but ‘I have not yet begun to fight’ is a great thing that we should be living by every day when we take on people and play them.”
Among the busts at Monticello is one of Thomas Jefferson’s friend John Paul Jones. And now, at the university that Mr. Jefferson founded, a painting of Jones is prominently displayed. That it hangs in an arena strikes Mosher as fitting.
“I think this is the perfect home for it,” he said.
“Whenever you want to inspire, whenever you want people to understand the sacrifice it takes to fight for what you believe in, to win, it’s an absolutely logical progression to carry that into a sports metaphor. But it can also be an academic metaphor.
“It just [applies to] anybody who wants to work hard and understands you’re going to get knocked down before you get back up again sometimes.”