The MacArthur Murals

Alton S. Tobey and Jean MacArthur        In 1963 the MacArthur Memorial applied for a grant to complete six 7’ x 13’ murals depicting the life and accomplishments of General Douglas MacArthur. The City of Norfolk and the Abbey Mural Trust Fund came together in providing the museum with professional artwork to be displayed in the museum. However, when the National Academy of Design selected Yale graduate Morton Roberts, best known for his paintings of the Russian Revolution and Jazz series published in Life magazine in 1958, to begin the project, they were unaware that he would suffer an untimely death just a year later at the young age of 37. Because Roberts was only able to complete preliminary sketches of the planned murals, the National Academy of Design considered 10 alternate candidates for the MacArthur murals and finally selected Alton S. Tobey, a classmate of Roberts at Yale. Tobey was well known for his contributions to Life magazine and illustrations for a 12-volume history of the United States published under the Golden Books label.

       In less than two years, Tobey created six murals mainly based on photographs of Gen. MacArthur, his family and events in his career. The murals were unveiled at the MacArthur Memorial in an elaborate ceremony January 13, 1966, attended by the General’s wife and son, Jean and Arthur MacArthur. The murals have served as the centerpieces of several of the Memorial’s galleries, although the paintings have undergone some changes in the four decades since their creation.

       The artist had worked almost exclusively from photographs of his subjects, and also was advised by Major General Courtney Whitney, one of MacArthur’s chief aides, in creating the murals. When creating the “I Have Returned” mural depicting the Leyte landing, it is thought that Tobey was working from a reversed photo, thus the finished mural was a mirror image of most images of the event. While Gen. Whitney stated that “General MacArthur reenacted this event a few times in order to satisfy tardy photographers – thus the order of the deployment [of the individuals in the image] varied,” the Leyte mural was replaced in 1977 with a second painting of the same name showing Gen. MacArthur and the others arrayed as they are seen in the more common images of the landing. At the same time, subtle changes and additions were made at the request of Mrs. MacArthur to several other murals to make them more historically correct in accordance with facts developed during a more complete study of the depicted events.

Alton S. Tobey

Alton S. TobeyA prolific artist who created more than 500 works of art during a 60-year career, Alton Tobey was born in Connecticut in 1914 and graduated from Yale University’s School of Fine Arts. Tobey’s work was featured in numerous museum exhibits and he completed a variety of murals all across the country. His work was published in Life, Reader’s Digest, American Artist and Spotlight magazines. In addition, Tobey completed more than 300 paintings for the Golden Book of American History volumes. Subjects of portraits he created include Albert Einstein, Pope John Paul II, Douglas MacArthur and John F. Kennedy. Tobey’s extensive exhibitions were tributes to his exceptional abilities as a multifaceted artist. Alton S. Tobey passed away on January 4, 2005, after a long illness. A website,, had been created in honor of his 90th birthday just a few months before his death.


The horrors of World War I in France are graphically illustrated here. The General is seen on a reconnaissance. He has just lowered his binoculars and is dictating a dispatch. An aide sits before him and calls headquarters on a field telephone as weary soldiers file by.

The artist captures the essence of long, frustrating war by depicting a disabled tank and a muddy, rat-infested trench smashed by shellfire. It is manned by haggard doughboys, members of MacArthur’s famed “Rainbow Division.”
MacArthurs famed Rainbow Division.   


Based on the famous World War II photograph of the landing on Leyte in 1944, the portrait recreates a dramatic moment, possibly the high point of the General’s career. From left to right are Philippine President Sergio Osmena; General MacArthur; Colonel Courtney Whitney; Lieutenant General Richard Sutherland; Staff Sergeant Francisco Salverone; Brigadier General Carlos Romulo, Philippine Army; Lieutenant General George Kinney; and Bill Dunn, CBS News. The composition, expressions and flow of figures have been executed to show resolution and the triumph of right. landing on Leyte in 1944.  


The cessation of hostilities in World War II was conducted in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri, September 2, 1945. MacArthur supervises the signing of the surrender document, observed by representatives of every nation allied with the United States against Japan. These men stand ground. Behind MacArthur are the Allied signatories. The Japanese delegation stand at right. Hanging in the background is the 31-starred flag which flew in 1853, when Commodore Perry concluded the “Open Door” treaty with the Mikado. The mural is taken from a photograph of the scene. the USS Missouri, September 2, 1945.  


In the upper left is Brigadier General Courtney Whitney; Rear Admiral James Doyle; Vice Admiral Arthur Struble; Lieutenant General Lemuel C. Shepherd; Major General E.K. Wright; General MacArthur; and Major General Ned Almond observing the landing at Inchon, a classic tactical stroke which freed South Korea. All about them is the violence of war and the forward thrust of soldiers pursuing the enemy. In the lower right we see the General at a ceremony restoring the seat of government in Seoul to President Rhee, September 29, 1950.  The image reflects the original 1966 mural before the additions made in 1977. In the lower right we see the General at a ceremony restoring the seat of government in Seoul to President Rhee, September 29, 1950.  


April, 1951 – a day of triumph for Douglas MacArthur, yet a day not without sadness. After nearly half a century of service to his country he came home from Korea. By special request of Congress, he addressed a joint session on his arrival in Washington. It was here that he gave his famous “Old Soldiers” elegy and ceased an active role in the defense of the nation. The mural is taken from a photograph of the address in the Senate chambers. Superimposed is a portrait of MacArthur, ramrod straight, in salute to the flag he had served so gloriously. April, 1951 - famous “Old Soldiers” elegy.  

[In a bit of artistic license, Tobey included himself in the Congressional audience in this painting. He is quite noticeable at right as he is the only figure with facial hair – a fashion anachronism in the 1950s.] Tobey included himself in the Congressional audience in this painting.  

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