George de Forest Brush (1855-1941)
George de Forest Brush (1855-1941)

A Young Shoshone

George de Forest Brush (1855-1941)
A Young Shoshone
signed 'Geo de Forest Brush' (lower right)--inscribed with title (lower left)
oil on canvas laid down on board
13 3/8 x 10 ¼ in. (34 x 26 cm.)
Painted in 1882.
Grand Central Art Galleries, Inc., New York.
Mr. Henry E. Ellsworth, acquired from the above, 1932.
By descent to the present owners.
New York, Grand Central Art Galleries, Inc., Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings by George de Forest Brush, January 7-18, 1930.
Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum, Paintings in Hartford Collections, 1936, no. 22.
New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Art Gallery, American Art from Alumni Collections, 1968, no. 121, illustrated.
New York, Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc.; Manchester, New Hampshire, Currier Gallery of Art; Youngstown, Ohio, Butler Institute of American Art; Nashville, Tennessee, Fine Arts Center at Cheekwood, George de Forest Brush, 1855-1941: Master of the American Renaissance, November 13, 1985-July 6, 1986, p. 63, no. 9, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution; Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, George de Forest Brush: The Indian Paintings, September 14, 2008-May 24, 2009, pp. 12, 138-39, no. 4, illustrated.

Lot Essay

The present work was painted on George de Forest Brush's visit to Wyoming's Wind River Reservation in the spring and summer of 1882. The artist and his brother Alfred embarked on their first adventure out West, Alfred having been hired by New York oilman Wilbur Dixon Ellis to establish a ranch in the Wyoming Territory at the base of the Rocky Mountains. After traveling by train and then packhorse to the Reservation, the two brothers encountered camps of Native Americans upon their arrival, and Brush’s first paintings from the trip were portraits from life of men in the Arapahoe and Shoshone tribes there. He soon became comfortable moving freely among the Indians, learning to appreciate their unique cultures, observing their customs, such as the Sun Dance, and gathering inspiration for eventual studio paintings.

In his first works from the West, including A Young Shoshone, Brush’s growing admiration for the Native Americans is evident through the honest yet noble style of his portraiture. Unfortunately, in the 1880s, Indians had gained somewhat of a negative reputation as vagrants to the nation as a whole. Brush wanted to counteract that impression by creating, in the style of his French mentor Jean-Léon Gérôme, lifelike and strikingly human portrayals of men on the brink of momentous change as the modern world entered their native territory.

Patricia Junker explains, "His painterly A Shoshone Youth, an oil sketch, may have been made as a source for imaginative pictures. It is an affecting portrayal of human emotion, a depiction of a young man's vulnerability and, perhaps, fear...Though few pure portraits are now extant among Brush's Indian works, the evidence of the touchingly lifelike examples that are known reveals that close character study was fundamental to Brush's Indian works. It was also key in eliciting considered viewer response in a period when emotions about American Indians ran high. One 1908 summary of Brush’s achievement in his Indian series is especially applicable to his Indian portraits:

"Brush took his youthful enthusiasms and fresh training out to the frontier and painted a series of small-sized, great Indian pictures, which remain an important record of the humanity of that type of vanishing being in whom men of our time have faced men of the stone age eye to eye. Here was a painter desirous to interpret the inner life and aspiration of that undeveloped brother, not his warfare, nor his picturesqueness, and painting well what he clearly saw. It was doubly an interesting thing to do for his country, while we were still in our century of dishonor towards the Indians.” (George de Forest Brush: The Indian Paintings, Washington, D.C., 2008, p. 138)

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