Lot 93
  • 93

N.C. Wyeth 1882 - 1945

250,000 - 350,000 USD
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  • N.C. Wyeth
  • The Chief Raised His Musket and Fired (The Assassination of Fletcher Christian)
  • signed N.C. Wyeth (upper left); also inscribed The Assassination of Fletcher Christian/P.109-P. 1/#2132 on the reverse
  • oil on panel
  • 26 3/4 by 18 1/2 inches
  • (67.9 by 47 cm)
  • Painted in 1940.


Mrs. N.C. Wyeth
Wildenstein & Co., New York, after 1950
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Spina, 1967
American Illustrators Gallery, New York, 1990
Sold: Phillips, New York, June 16, 1998, lot 92
Barbara and Edward Aster, Eugene, Oregon (sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 27, 1999, lot 172, illustrated)
MBNA America, Wilmington, Delaware (acquired at the above sale)
Andrew and Betsy Wyeth, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Tokyo, Odakyu Museum; Fukushima, Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art; Osaka, Daimaru Museum, Umeda-Osaka, The Great American Illustrators, April-November 1993, no. 25, illustrated p. 42
Eugene, Oregon, University of Oregon, Knight Library Special Collections, N.C. Wyeth: The Art of Illustration: An Exhibition of Works by N.C. Wyeth from the Collection of Barbara and Edward Aster, January-February 1999, no. 4, illustrated


Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, The Bounty Trilogy–Pitcain's Island, Boston, Massachusetts, 1940, illustrated p. 757
Douglas Allen and Douglas Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 213
N.C. Wyeth: A Book of Postcards, San Francisco, California, 1995, illustrated  
Christine B. Podmaniczky, N.C. Wyeth: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 2008, vol. II, no. I1301, p. 585, illustrated 


This work is in very good condition. There is a hairline horizontal line in the smooth surface of the panel 1 ½ inches down from the top edge that is original. There are a few small drops and spots in the shoulder of the figure on the left and between the figure and the left edge of the panel that are inherent to the artist's technique and materials. Under UV: there is no apparent inpainting.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

N.C. Wyeth executed The Chief Raised His Musket and Fired in 1940 as the period that is today known as the Golden Age of Illustration was coming to an end. By this time, Wyeth had achieved tremendous success as an illustrator after studying at Howard Pyle’s eponymous school and selling his first drawing to The Saturday Evening Post in 1903. He gained further recognition when he received commissions to illustrate Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1911) and James Fennimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1919). Wyeth’s career continued to flourish until his death in 1945, by which time he had created nearly 4,000 illustrations for books and magazines.

The present work is an illustration for Charles Nordhoff's and James Norman Hall’s The Bounty Trilogy, a thrilling and dramatic account of the mutiny that took place on the HMS Bounty during its voyage from Portsmouth, England to Tahiti. In April 1789, a group of disaffected crewmen led by Fletcher Christian seized control of the ship from their captain Lieutenant Williams Bligh and set him and eighteen others adrift in the middle of the South Pacific. Published in Boston by Little, Brown and Company, the trilogy is comprised of three volumes including Men Against the Sea, Pitcairn’s Island and Mutiny on the Bounty, each of which is narrated from a different point of view. Wyeth produced thirteen illustrations for the trilogy.  

Wyeth began experimenting with gessoed panel late in his career. The precision of this support enabled him to render scenes with singular detail and extraordinary clarity, as The Chief Raised His Musket and Fired demonstrates. He successfully manipulates the  light and color to capture the dramatic moment of Fletcher Christian’s execution. Inspired by his imagination, Wyeth’s illustrations have the power to transport the viewer into the story.

As the artist himself said, “Convincing illustration must ring true to life. The characters should be of flesh and blood, not puppets who strike attitudes for the sake of composition, or manikins which serve as drapes for clothes, however effective the costumes in themselves may be” (Douglas Allen and Douglas Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 128). Indeed, The Chief Raised His Musket and Fired displays N.C. Wyeth’s ability to infuse a scene with drama and emotion, bringing the story to life.