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Charles Deas (1818-1867)
Charles Deas (1818-1867)

The Trooper

Charles Deas (1818-1867)
The Trooper
signed and dated 'C. Deas 1840' (lower right)
oil on canvas
12 x 14 in. (30.5 x 35.6 cm.)
(Possibly) Watts Family collection.
Sale: Winegardens, New York, February 1961.
Herbert Roman, Inc., New York, acquired from the above.
Kennedy Galleries, Inc., New York, 1961.
Mr. and Mrs. Norman Woolworth, New York, 1961.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, 1966.
Maude B. Feld and Samuel B. Feld, Esq., New York, 1969.
Estate of the above, 1995.
Sotheby’s, New York, 28 November 2001, lot 177.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
National Academy of Design, Catalogue of the Fifteenth Annual Exhibition, New York, 1840, p. 17, no. 291.
“National Academy,” Morning Herald, New York, vol. 5, no. 346, July 4, 1840, n.p.
J.F. McDermott, “Charles Deas: Painter of the Frontier,” Art Quarterly, vol. 4, no. 13, Autumn 1950, p. 294.
C. Clark, Charles Deas and 1840s America, exhibition catalogue, Norman, Oklahoma, 2009, pp. 12, 44, 84, 85, 101, 173, 178, no. 26, fig. 3.15, illustrated.
New York, National Academy of Design, Summer 1840, no. 291.

Lot Essay

Charles Deas' The Trooper features the hallmark danger, psychological tension and impressive imagination characteristic of his best works. Deas, who was born in Philadelphia in 1818, had two childhood passions: art and the army. When he failed to get an appointment in the army, he dedicated his career to painting. Deas trained at the National Academy of Design in New York, where he later became a member. In 1840 he showed several works at the Academy’s annual exhibit, including The Trooper, which is one of only four surviving works by Deas from the show.

This action-packed work depicts two soldiers in mortal combat. The soldier in red, bleeding from the forehead, fires on the one in blue who reels back from the impact. The terrified expressions of the horses and the turbulent sky underscore the frenzied tone. The brilliant yellows and reds of the men’s uniforms pop in an otherwise grey and brown composition. The background of the work is equally as chaotic with a pack of rider-less galloping horses in the left and crows descending over the smoke filled remnants of the battle in the right. The small format of The Trooper belies the explosive action of the composition. Art historian Carol Clark notes of The Trooper, “Deas’ painting of military action, fantastically realized, is thrillingly escapist. It points to a traditional test of manhood—survival in military combat—that Deas did not take. But it also directs us to the place where he and many of his contemporaries tested their skills—the West.” (Charles Deas and 1840s America, exhibition catalogue, Norman, Oklahoma, 2009, p. 84)

Inspired by the paintings of George Catlin, Deas left New York in the spring of 1840 to experience the “frontier” first hand. He eventually set up a studio in St. Louis in 1841 and became a noted painter of trappers and Native Americans. Deas’ eight-year painting career ended abruptly at the age of 30 when, suffering from mania and delusions, he was committed to the Bloomingdale Asylum in New York. “He lived out the rest of his life in mental institutions, and by the time he died, at age 48, right after the Civil War, he and his paintings had fallen into obscurity. But dozens of them, it turns out, were only in hiding, and now they are considered national treasures, painted by a doomed artist with a back story made for Hollywood and an eye that captured a fast-fading West.” (K. Johnson, “Artist’s Work, Out of Attics, Goes to Walls of a Museum,” The New York Times, August 24, 2010)

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