John Lee Douglas Mathies (1780-1834)
Property from the Brown Family Collection
John Lee Douglas Mathies (1780-1834)

Red Jacket

John Lee Douglas Mathies (1780-1834)
Red Jacket
oil on canvas
30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm.)
Painted in 1820.
The artist.
Nancy Dunnel (Dwinel) Mathies, wife of the above.
Robert H. Mathies, son of the above.
Horatio G. Warner, Rochester, New York, acquired from the above, 1861.
J.B.Y. Warner, son of the above.
Mrs. Eugene D. Brown, Scottsville, New York, daughter of the above, 1918.
John Warner Brown, Scottsville, New York, son of the above.
By descent to the present owner.
E.J. Roberts, The Craftsman, vol. 1, Rochester, New York, 1830, p. 408.
H. O’Reilly, Settlement in the West: Sketches of Rochester; With Incidental Notices of Western New-York, Rochester, New York, 1838, p. 383.
W.L. Stone, Life and Times of Red-Jacket, or Sa-go-ye-wat-ha; Being the Sequel to the History of the Six Nations, New York, 1841, p. 374.
J.M. Parker, Rochester: A Story Historical, Rochester, New York, 1884, p. 18n1.
W.F. Peck, Semi-Centennial History of the City of Rochester, With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers, Syracuse, New York, 1884, p. 519.
J. Devoy, Rochester and the Post Express: A History of the City of Rochester from the Earliest Times, With a Record of the Post Express, Rochester, New York, 1895, p. 121, frontispiece illustration.
B. McKelvey, Rochester: The Water-Power City, 1812-1854, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1945, p. 125.
J.W. Brown, “First Portrait of Red Jacket,” Genesee County Scrapbook (The Rochester Historical Society), vol. II, no. I, Rochester, New York, 1951, pp. 5-9, 14-15, illustrated.
A. Merrill, Pioneer Profiles, Rochester, New York, 1957, p. 73.
H.A. Wisbey, Jr., “J.L.D. Mathies, Western New York Artist,” New York History, vol. 39, no. 2, April 1958, pp. 133, 135-36, 138-40, 142, 144, 146, 149n6, illustrated.
H.A. Wisbey, Jr., Pioneer Prophetess: Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend, Ithaca, New York, 1964, p. 162.
T.L McKenney, J. Hall, The Indian Tribes of North America, With Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of the Principal Chiefs, East Ardsley, England, 1972, p. 14.
S. Krane, The Wayward Muse: A Historical Survey of Painting in Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, 1987, p. 23.
W.H. Gerdts, Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting, 1710-1920, vol. 1, New York, 1990, pp. 193-95, fig. I.198, illustrated.
M. Black, et al., American Paintings in the Detroit Institute of Arts: Works by Artists Born Before 1816, vol. I, Detroit, Michigan, 1991, p. 288.
B. McKelvey, Rochester on the Genessee: The Growth of a City, Syracuse, New York, 1993, p. 31.
P.E. Johnson, S. Wilentz, The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America, Oxford, England, 1994, pp. 85, 217n74.
A.C. Parker, Red Jacket: Seneca Chief, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1998, pp. 214-15.
R.H. Love, Carl W. Peters: American Scene Painter from Rochester to Rockport, Rochester, New York, 1999, p. 37, fig. 4-3, illustrated.
C. Densmore, Red Jacket: Iroquois Diplomat and Orator, Syracuse, New York, 1999, p. 98, cover illustration.
J. Colin, “The Historian’s Notebook: The Seneca Indian Park,” Western New York Heritage, vol. 7, Fall 2004, p. 32, illustrated.
Rochester, New York, Mechanics’ Association of Western New York Fair, October 1839.
Rochester, New York, Corinthian Hall, Christmas Bazaar, Held Under the Auspices of the Ladies’ Hospital Relief Association, December 14-22, 1863, p. 22 (as Red Jacket (A Portrait from Life)).
Cooperstown, New York, Fenimore House, New York Historical Association, Museum and Gallery, and elsewhere, Rediscovered Painters of Upstate New York, 1700-1875, June 14-September 15, 1958, pp. 62-63, no. 58, illustrated.
Rochester, New York, University of Rochester, Memorial Art Gallery, on extended loan.

Brought to you by

Elizabeth Beaman
Elizabeth Beaman

Lot Essay

John Lee Douglas Mathies documented through his art some of the most interesting characters and episodes in the early history of New York State. Born in upstate New York in 1780, Mathies dedicated his thirties to painting. He later became a key participant in the salon-style intellectual community of Rochester, opening restaurants and hotels that became key exhibition and conversation spaces, even establishing the first art gallery in the area around 1826.

Considered his greatest artistic achievement, Red Jacket portrays the famous Seneca orator (1758-1830) also known as Sa-Go-Ye-Wat-Ha, or “He Keeps Them Awake,” because of his superior public speaking skills. A notable figure in New York State history, Red Jacket was a member of the Wolf clan and lived much of his adult life in Seneca territory in the Genesee River Valley. During the Revolutionary War, Red Jacket sided with the British and received his nickname “Red Jacket” in reference to the British redcoat he was gifted for acting as their messenger. Although his Revolutionary War career was undistinguished, and he was even accused of cowardice for deserting from a few skirmishes, after the war, Red Jacket played a prominent role in negotiations with the new United States government and achieved a position of great influence. In 1792 he led a delegation of Iroquois to Philadelphia where he met with President George Washington. During the convention, Washington presented him with a special peace medal, consisting of a large oval of silver plate engraved with an image of Washington shaking Red Jacket's hand and inscribed with their names and the date. This medal, now in the collection of the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, is featured in Mathies’ portrait of the Indian, as well as in every subsequent portrait painted of him. Red Jacket went on to become a great ally of the United States in the War of 1812 and, even in his sixties, fought bravely at the battles of Fort George and Chippawa, definitively clearing his name of any charges of cowardice. Chief Red Jacket dedicated the rest of his life to defending Seneca culture from white encroachment and is remembered today as a great hero of his people.

Mathies was notably the first artist permitted to paint a portrait of Red Jacket. William Stone, an early biographer of the Seneca orator, explains, “There are no portraits of Red-Jacket extant, taken in early life, or even when in the prime of his manhood, although many efforts were made by the artists of New York and Philadelphia, and also by other gentleman, during his visits to those cities, to induce him to sit. His reply to all importunities upon the subject, for many years, was, that when Red-Jacket died, all that appertained to him should die with him. He wished nothing to remain. But this purpose was changed in the autumn of 1820, through the interposition of the blacksmith of the tribe, and he was induced to sit to Mr. Mathies, a self-taught artist, residing in Rochester. Indeed, his reluctance was readily overcome by an appeal to his vanity,--Mr. Mathies having assured him that his only motive was to obtain a likeness to be placed by the side of the portraits of other great men of the United States.” (Life and Times of Red-Jacket, or Sa-go-ye-wat-ha; Being the Sequel to the History of the Six Nations, New York, 1841, p. 374) Stone notes that Red Jacket sat for Mathies three times for the portrait, and the result is indeed a commemoration of a great man, worthy of hanging among the most accomplished portraits of American dignitaries.

Red Jacket brought more praise than any other work by Mathies, and many contemporaries considered it the best likeness made of the Native American. For example, Orsamus Turner, an author who often wrote about his encounters with Red Jacket, declared, “It is the portrait of Red Jacket as he was, and as he looked…as lifelike upon canvas as the poet made him on the lettered page.” (as quoted in A.C. Parker, Red Jacket: Seneca Chief, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1998, p. 215) Similarly, a critic from the Ontario Repository of Canandaigua, New York, where Mathies lived between 1815 and 1823, raved in an article dated October 3, 1820: “We have seen a half length likeness of the celebrated Indian Chief of the above mentioned name, and it is due to the artist, Mr. Mathies, and to the friends of correct limning at large, to speak of it as a fine specimen of the science. It was taken during a visit of the Chief to this village week before last, at the instance of several gentlemen of Canandaigua, who for years past have desired an opportunity of obtaining a correct likeness of the distinguished Indian orator. Red Jacket, although far advanced toward old age, still retains the face of intelligence beaming in his eye, and every feature of his countenance is expressive of great mental energy. His bold and high arch’d forehead; his deeply indented brow, where thought seems to have worn channels that testify to its strength; his fierce and determined glance and the particular conformation of his lips, which eloquence has often spent its most commanding force; these and in truth all the prominent features of the Chief, are now upon canvas; and we hesitate not to add, in a style that does honor to the artist. We hope the lovers of painting will not neglect the present opportunity of witnessing a performance that, besides being intrinsically a subject of high interest, presents claim to attention of another sort—it is the production of a native genius, now residing in this village.”

Several contemporary artists, such as George Catlin and Robert W. Weir, also subsequently painted portraits of Red Jacket, but Mathies’ version is considered the superior rendering as it best expresses the individuality and personality of the sitter. Red Jacket remained in Mathies’ own collection throughout his life, and, for some time, he conspicuously displayed the portrait in the parlor of his tavern on Exchange Street in Rochester. Henry O’Reilly recalled in 1838, “The traveler who has ever sojourned at the Clinton House of Rochester while Mathies was landlord cannot have forgotten the portrait of the Red Chieftain which arrested his attention on entering the parlour of that hotel. The striking physiognomy, the piercing eye, the peculiar medallion on the breast, might well have excited inquiry; and had the inquirer met with any who had known the original, he would doubtless have been assured that it was a capital likeness of Saguaha or Red Jacket, that noble Seneca, whose wisdom, eloquence, and patriotism are worthy of higher fame than will probably crown the champion of a decaying race…It may be questioned whether any other artist ever enjoyed such facilities for sketching accurately the lineaments of the great chief.” (Settlement in the West: Sketches of Rochester; With Incidental Notices of Western New-York, Rochester, New York, 1838, p. 383)

After Mathies’ death in 1834, his wife and then his son kept possession of Red Jacket until its purchase in 1861 by one of the editors of the Rochester Daily Courier and Republican, Horatio G. Warner. The work has remained in the family ever since, but was again publicly exhibited when Warner’s granddaughter Mrs. Eugene D. Brown opened the doors of her Rochester homestead to visitors as “The Red Jacket Tea House” from 1922-28. For the past several years, the work has been on loan for display at the University of Rochester Memorial Gallery.

Known works by Mathies are extremely rare; in fact, Herbert Wisby, Jr.’s article on Mathies lists only twelve identified works. However, the works that have been located show an artist of great talent. Wisby writes, “The individual excellence of the few known paintings associated with Mathies indicated a talent of great promise. When all of the known examples of his work are considered as a group, it becomes clear that Mathies is an important American primitive artist.” (“J.L.D. Mathies, Western New York Artist,” New York History, April 1958, vol. 39, no. 2, p. 142)

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