In 1881, a young George de Forest Brush traveled west with his brother to the Crow reservation in Montana. While there, Brush documented all aspects of Indian life and, according to a first-hand account, immersed himself in Indian culture, participating in and at times leading ritualistic ceremonies and dances. Chief Plenty Coups allegedly said that Brush was the “only white man who could walk and think like an Indian.” Based on his four or five year sojourn out west, Brush painted a series of works depicting life on the Crow and other reservations, some of which were featured as illustrations in Harper’s and The Century Magazine. Unlike chroniclers of the American West such as George Catlin and Karl Bodmer, Brush progressively adopted a more idealistic approach. In 1885 the artist wrote, “In choosing Indians as subjects for art, I do not paint from the historian’s or the antiquary’s point of view; I do not care to represent them in any curious habits which could not be comprehended by us; I am interested in those habits and deeds in which we have feelings in common. Therefore, I hesitate to add any interest here to my pictures by supplying historical facts. If I were required to resort to this in order to bring out the poetry, I would drop the subject at once" (The Century Magazine, May 1885, p. 57).
Painted in Florida in 1887 and exhibited at Chicago’s Columbia Exposition in 1893, The Indian and the Lily, which depicts a Seminole Indian, is one of Brush’s most renowned Indian paintings and reveals the artist’s unique methodology, which distinguished his work from that of his fellow artists. Harold McCracken writes, “George de Forest Brush presented the Indian from a viewpoint quite different from any of his predecessors. His paintings were not directly concerned with warfare, ceremonial display or the more sensational aspects of primitive life, but rather they were interpretations of the philosophy of the Indian. He was the poet of our Indian painters” (Portrait of the Old West, New York, 1952, p. 173). Brush’s reputation was rooted in part in his formal artistic training. At the age of nineteen, he won a scholarship to study with Jean-Léon Gérôme at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. Gérôme’s studio, one of two leading schools in Paris at the end of the 19th century, emphasized study of the Old Masters, a careful attention to anatomy, and painstaking preliminary drawing. Armed with this influential artistic training, Brush adopted a classical approach to his Indian paintings whose figures of anatomical splendor are often based on the Greek ideal. In addition, Brush, like Gérôme, had a vast collection of costumes, objects and decorations, which he relied upon when he returned east, and which enabled him to paint in exacting detail.
The themes of death and regeneration, symbolized by the swan and the lily, the Indian’s empathetic gesture and chiseled physique, embody Brush’s iconic blend of stylistic classicism and ideological romanticism. The Indian’s hand reaching out to the lily lightly quotes the Renaissance iconography of Adam’s hand reaching out to God on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling; and the nobility of the Indian as he contemplates the lily evokes not only the profound sympathy for nature Brush observed in his study of native cultures, but also his own mythical and stoic perception of the Indian. According to the critic Charles Caffin, “In these Indian pictures, far too few in number…the imagination revealed is deep and elevated, and no one has approached him in the completeness with which he has suggested the solemn romance of these primitive conditions” (The Story of American Painting, New York, 1907).
Around 1890, after painting a very limited number of Indian subjects over an approximately ten year period, Brush shifted his focus to domestic portraits of mothers and children based on the traditional religious grouping of the Madonna and Child. While several possibilities for this change in direction have been postured, his daughter, Thea Cabot suggested that her father, true to his character and idealism, stopped representing Indians because, “he was heartbroken about how the Indians were treated by the government, how they had been cheated of everything…These Indians were his friends and after seeing what happened to them, he couldn’t paint them anymore” (George de Forest Brush: Master of the American Renaissance, p. 23). Although Brush never returned to his romantic portrayals of Indians, these remain his most renowned and highly sought after paintings.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale