Sunday, January 20, 2019

On the Plains at Sunset by Albert Bierstadt (German-born American painter, 1830-1902)

Albert Bierstadt (German-born American painter, 1830-1902) On the Plains at Sunset

Matthew Biagell explains in his book Albert Bierstadt that,"Athough Bierstadt made probing studies of individual Indians during his travels in the West, he usually generalized their appearances & activities in his paintings. He placed them, as he placed European peasants in earlier works, in the middle distance, so that we witness their presence in a landscape setting rather than focus on their movements." Many of his landscapes including Native Americans are the western equivalent of his European generalized landscapes & reveals Bierstadt's consistent attitude toward subject matter regardless of its locale human subjects are engaged in seemingly unrelated activities. His paintings, bathed in a golden glow, often suggest nostalgia for a previous age when Native Americans were thought to have lived harmoniously with nature. Here they are not wily, wicked, or predatory, but are engaged instead in peaceful domestic industry. Works such as this are obviously part of the broad western European tradition of Arcadian scenes, but in its American version the tradition assumes a particular complexity & ambivalence. His painting including Natives often portray the nobility of the Indians before their contact with Europeans & subsequent debasement. Paintings displaying this attitude undoubtedly provided the public with the images it wanted to see, especially during the years Indians were systematically being driven from their lands. Suchromanticized paintings might also be considered retardataire; the Indian, noble or otherwise, no longer engaged many serious 19C writers after the 1850s, & precise anthropological & linguistic analyses of Indian tribes were already being included in the Pacific railroad reports by that time.

Albert Bierstadt (German-born American painter, 1830-1902) was best known for these lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West. To paint the scenes, Bierstadt joined several journeys of the Westward Expansion. Bierstadt, was born in Solingen, Germany. He was still a toddler, when his family moved from Germany to New Bedford in Massachusetts. In 1853, he returned to Germany to study in Dusseldorf, where he refined his technical abilities by painting Alpine landscapes. After he returned to America in 1857, he joined an overland survey expedition traveling westward across the country. Along the route, he took countless photographs & made sketches & returned East to paint from them. He exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum from 1859-1864, at the Brooklyn Art Association from 1861-1879, & at the Boston Art Club from 1873-1880. A member of the National Academy of Design from 1860-1902, he kept a studio in the 10th Street Studio Building, New York City from 1861-1879. He was a member of the Century Association from 1862-1902, when he died.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

1860s George Catlin (1796 –1872) A Cheyenne Warrior Resting His Horse

1860s George Catlin (1796 –1872) A Cheyenne Warrior Resting His Horse

George Catlin (1796 –1872) A Dog Feast - Sioux

George Catlin participated in a Sioux Indian ceremony of friendship at which a meal of dog meat was the center of the festivities. He explained the significance of this meal in his journal: “This feast was unquestioningly given to us as the most undoubted evidence they could give of their friendship. Knowing the spirit in which it was given, we could not but treat it respectfully, and receive it as anything but a high and marked compliment. The dog feast is truly a religious ceremony. The Indian sees fit to sacrifice his faithful companion to bear testimony to the sacredness of his vows of friendship.” 

“Some few days after the steamer had arrived, it was announced that a grand feast was to be given to the great white chiefs, who were visitors amongst them; and preparations were made accordingly for it. The two chiefs . . . brought their . . . tents together, forming the two into a semi-circle, enclosing a space sufficiently large to accommodate 150 men; and sat down with that number of the principal chiefs and warriors of the Sioux nation . . . while the rest of the company all sat upon the ground, and mostly cross-legged, preparatory to the feast being dealt out . . . In the centre of the semi-circle was erected a flag-staff, on which was waving a white flag, and to which also was tied the calumet, both expressive of their friendly feelings towards us. Near the foot of the flag-staff were placed in a row on the ground, six or eight kettles, with iron covers on them, shutting them tight, in which were prepared the viands for our voluptuous feast.” (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 1, no. 28, 1841; reprint 1973)
1860s George Catlin (1796 –1872) A Dog Feast - Sioux

From Catlin - "A DOG FEAST (Sioux). This feast was offered by the Sioux chiefs of the Upper Missouri, in 1832, to Mr. Sanford (the Indian agent), Pierre Choteau, K. McKenzie, and the author. The greatest pledge of respect and friendship which the Indians can give to strangers in their country is given in the “Dog Feast,” in which the flesh of their favorite dogs must necessarily be served." 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Karl Ferdinand Wimar (1828-1862) Jemima Boone's Abduction

From Europe to the Atlantic coast of America & on to the Pacific coast during the 17C-19C, settlers moved West encountering a variety of Indigenous Peoples who had lived on the land for centuries.
Karl Ferdinand Wimar (1828-1862 a painter of the American West was also known as Charles Wimar & Carl Wimar) Boone abduction

Jemima Boone & the Callaway girls were captured by a Cherokee-Shawnee raiding party. After the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, violence increased between American Indians & settlers in Kentucky. American Indians, particularly Shawnee from north of the Ohio River, raided the Kentucky settlements, hoping to drive away the settlers, whom they regarded as trespassers. The Cherokee, led by Dragging Canoe, frequently attacked isolated settlers & hunters, convincing many to abandon Kentucky. This was part of a 20-year Cherokee resistance to pioneer settlement. By the late spring of 1776, fewer than 200 Americans remained in Kentucky, primarily at the fortified settlements of Boonesborough, Harrodsburg, & Logan's Station in the southeastern part of the state.

On July 14, 1776, a raiding party caught 3 teenage girls from Boonesborough, as they were floating in a canoe on the Kentucky River. They were Jemima, daughter of Daniel Boone, & Elizabeth & Frances, daughters of Colonel Richard Callaway. The Cherokee Hanging Maw led the raiders, 2 Cherokee & 3 Shawnee warriors. Boone organized a rescue party, as the captors hurried the girls north toward the Shawnee towns across the Ohio River. The 3rd morning, as the Indians were building a fire for breakfast, the rescuers arrived. As one Indian was shot, Jemima said, "That's Father's gun!" The Indians retreated, leaving the girls to be taken home by the settlers. The incident was portrayed in 19C literature & paintings. James Fenimore Cooper created a fictionalized version of the chase in The Last of the Mohicans (1826).

A German-born immigrant to the United States, Charles Wimar painted The Abduction of Daniel Boone's Daughter by the Indians while working in Düsseldorf with the famed history painter Emmanuel Leutze. Fascinated by the American frontier, Wimar focused during this period on images of Native American conflicts with settlers, in particular the theme of captivity & abduction, as portrayed here. This theme appeared widely in the popular literature & visual arts of the 18C & 19C, in which it was fashionable to mythologize the struggles of the frontier with exotic portrayals of the West & Native Americans. 

When he died from tuberculosis at the age of 34, he left about 50 paintings, Indians Approaching Fort Union, Flatboatmen on the Mississippi & The Abduction of Daniel Boone’s Daughter by the Indians among them. In 1843, he traveled to St. Louis, a fur-trading frontier town at the time. Between 1846 & 1850, he was apprenticed to the artist Leon de Pomarede, & accompanied him on a journey up the Mississippi, to St. Anthony Falls in Minnesota. In 1852, Wimar returned to Germany; & for 4 years, he studied with with Emmanuel Leutze & Josef Fay in Düsseldorf. After his return to the United States, Wimar took several journeys up the Mississippi River and, in 1858, up the Yellowstone River – documented in various sketchbooks.  

Wimar's paintings, like others of the time, reinforced notions of Native Americans as savage & white settlers as cultivated & divinely ordained - a notion that helped justify white colonization of the West. Inspired by Virginian Daniel Bryan's (ca. 1789–1866) 1st book, the 1813 epic poem The Mountain Muse, Wimar here depicted 3 natives seizing Jemima Boone as she picked wildflowers along the Kentucky River. Also drawing on traditional religious imagery, Wimar portrayed the captive young woman in the pose of a praying saint or martyr, further promoting the piety & innocence of Christian Europeans & the aggressiveness & barbarity of Native Americans.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

George Catlin (1796-1872) He Who Jumps Over All, A Crow Chief.

George Catlin (1796-1872) He Who Jumps Over All, Crow.  BA-DA-AH-CHON-DU (He Who Outjumps All); A Crow Chief on Horseback Showing His Rich Costume and the Trappings of His Horse (Primary Title)

While touring the U.S. Midwest, Catlin was a guest of the Crow and the Minnetaree on the upper Missouri River. He marveled at their extraordinary feats of horsemanship on the plains of present-day North Dakota. Describing this painting of a Crow chief, Catlin wrote: "I have painted him as he sat for me, balanced on his leaping wild horse with his shield and quiver slung on his back, and his long lance decorated with the eagle’s quills, trailed in his right hand. His shirt and his leggings, and moccasins, were of the mountain-goat skins . . . their seams everywhere fringed with a profusion of scalp-locks taken from the heads of his enemies slain in battle. His long hair, which reached almost to the ground whilst he was standing on his feet, was now lifted in the air and floating in black waves over the hips of his leaping charger. On his head, and over his shining black locks, he wore a magnificent crest or head-dress, made of the quills of the war-eagle and ermine skins; and on his horse’s head also was another of equal beauty and precisely the same in pattern and material. Added to these ornaments there were yet as many others which contributed to his picturesque appearance, and amongst them a beautiful netting of various colours, that completely covered and almost obscured the horse’s head and neck, and extended over its back and its hips, terminating in a most extravagant and magnificent crupper,  embossed and fringed with rows of beautiful shells and porcupine quills of various colours." (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 1, letter 24)