Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945)
Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945)

"She found Chingachgook studying the shores of the lake, the mountains, and the heavens..."

Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945)
"She found Chingachgook studying the shores of the lake, the mountains, and the heavens..."
signed with initial 'W' (upper right)
oil on canvas
40 ¼ x 32 in. (102.2 x 81.3 cm.)
Painted in 1925.
Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
W.P. Bonbright, London, by 1927.
By descent to the late owner from the above, 1961.
J.F. Cooper, The Deerslayer (or The First War-Path), New York, 1925, opp. p. 360, illustrated.
D. Allen, D. Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth, The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 202.
C.B. Podmaniczky, J.H. Stoner, N.C. Wyeth: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, vol. II, London, 2008, p. 479, no. I1001(257), illustrated.
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Brandywine River Museum, Romance and Adventure with Pictures by N.C. Wyeth, January 17-May 24, 1976.
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Brandywine River Museum, The Classic Illustrations of N.C. Wyeth, January 12-May 19, 1985.

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William Haydock
William Haydock

Lot Essay

N.C. Wyeth established himself as one of the preeminent illustrators of the early twentieth century by successfully fulfilling countless assignments for America's publishers. Possessing an incontestable knack for the profession, Wyeth's illustrations were warmly embraced by the American public. His first illustration commission came in 1911, when the Charles Scribner’s Sons publishing company requested his work for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. The project resulted in a lifelong relationship with Scribner's that proved to be most fruitful, with additional commissions including The Boy's King Arthur, Robin Hood, The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer.

Wyeth’s initial attraction to and familiarity with Native American subject was due in large part to the drawings and paintings of Frederic Remington and was further reinforced with his own Western travels, which began in 1904, at the age of 21. At this time Wyeth set out for Colorado and New Mexico and confronted the magnificent, vast and raw landscape for the first time. In just under three months he endured a remarkable set of experiences, and from them he gathered material which he drew upon for the rest of his career, creating pictures that shaped American’s views of their country’s potential as a wide and challenging land of infinite promise. The individuals he encountered also informed future figurative depictions as he routinely collected clothing and artifacts, thereby allowing him to render every element in exacting detail.

James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer, or The First War-Path, centers around the character Natty Bumppo, also known as the Deerslayer. A child of white parents, Bumppo was fostered by the Delaware Indians, growing up with Chingachgook, who features prominently in the present work. The Mohican chief is familiar to the reader from Cooper’s other novel, The Last of the Mohicans, the 1919 deluxe edition of which was also illustrated by Wyeth. The Deerslayer recounts the characters’ adventures around the years 1740-45, making it the prequel to the other novels in the Leatherstocking Tales series, though it was the last to be written. The story represented the perfect opportunity for Wyeth to indulge his fascination with Native American themes. Douglas Allen writes, “To N.C. Wyeth, the American Indian he found of greatest interest was the Indian of [long] ago, the Indian faced by our forefathers when they first came to this land to settle. He was the Iroquois, the Huron, the Mohawk, and the Seneca. He was not the Indian of the vast plains, the mountains, or the desert. He was the Indian of poetry – the Woodland Indian of the Northeast." (D. Allen, D. Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth, The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 57)

In this particular scene, "She found Chingachgook studying the shores of the lake, the mountains, and the heavens," Wyeth depicts a moment of serenity, as Chingachgook and Hist, his fiancée, contemplate the departure of their dear friend, Tom Hutter. We see a pensive Chingachgook looking out into the distance, "with the sagacity of a man of the woods, and the gravity of an Indian." (J.F. Cooper, The Deerslayer, or the First War-Path, New York, 1925, p. 360) Reflecting his usual attentiveness to the text, Wyeth expertly renders Hist’s attire - "Her long coal-black hair was soon adjusted in a simple knot, the calico dress belted tight to her slender waist, and her little feet concealed in their gaudily ornamented moccasins." The atmosphere of the scene is perfectly complemented by the landscape, as "pure air of the morning" is perceptible in the cool hues of the mountains.

Although Wyeth's formative years as an artist were indebted to the acclaimed illustrator Howard Pyle, including the latter’s penchant for illustration, narrative and historic subject matter, it is the way that the student’s compositions differ from his teacher's that define him as an artist. While Pyle's pictures tend to be filled with figures and action, Wyeth's works are often more controlled, contain fewer figures and rely more on gesture and expression to convey narrative. In the present work, Wyeth focuses the scene on the two protagonists, expressing a range of emotions in their faces and poses. This painting, reflecting the emotional tenderness while also prompting the viewer to consider the ensuing conversation, epitomizes the compositional skill and unmatched sense of visual narrative that garnered Wyeth fame as one of America’s foremost illustrators.

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