Given her druthers, Louise Meadows would rather see Robert E. Lee in all his Confederate glory, with his general's uniform starched and proud, depicted on this city's downtown flood wall.

But today Meadows, a 69-year-old retired banker, was among dozens of Richmonders--black and white--to view a compromise image of Lee standing in civilian garb, across a pictorial panel from a black Union soldier and a victorious Abraham Lincoln. It was, she decided, good enough.

"As long as it's Robert E. Lee," Meadows declared. "I don't care if he's in his shorts."

Such measured views dominated today as the city continued to move toward a grudging consensus over whether--and how--to include a giant image of Lee in its new historical gallery downtown, part of Richmond's new Canal Walk project.

The original image, showing just Lee's head, stirred such protest here among African American leaders that the historical foundation sponsoring the gallery removed the picture from the flood wall. A month of debate and dissection has followed, as Confederate groups have extolled Lee's virtues and opponents have probed his recorded remarks for racist utterances.

Some here fear the controversy could worsen when David Duke, the Louisiana politician and former Ku Klux Klan leader, visits Richmond next week to render his opinion on the issue. Leaders of the Sons of Confederate Veterans have urged Duke to stay away and save Richmond from further acrimony.

But civic leaders hope that the new picture, displayed publicly today for the first time, will settle the dispute.

Some grumbling continued. Architect Thurmond Alford, 30, who is black, viewed the new picture--rendered in miniature in a makeshift gallery downtown--but found himself still angered by the images. He would prefer Nat Turner, the leader of a slave rebellion, to appear on the flood wall.

"General Lee stood for defending Virginia, defending the way of life in Virginia, which was slavery," Alford said. "We have too many things reminding us of General Lee. We have Lee schools. We have Lee bridges. We have Lee statues."

But most others liked the proposed new picture well enough and hoped that end of the controversy was near.

Wyn Price, 46, a white city worker, called the new display "pretty semi-inclusive" and said, "I just hope this will get us back off the front page of the papers nationwide."

CAPTION: Doretha Vaughan, of the Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau, looks at miniature versions of the proposed Canal Walk murals in a makeshift gallery at the Richmond Centre.