JOHN MIX STANLEY (1814-1872)
JOHN MIX STANLEY (1814-1872)
JOHN MIX STANLEY (1814-1872)
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JOHN MIX STANLEY (1814-1872)
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JOHN MIX STANLEY (1814-1872)

The Deer-Slayers

Details
JOHN MIX STANLEY (1814-1872)
The Deer-Slayers
signed and dated 'J.M. Stanley/1868.' (lower left)
oil on canvas
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted in 1868.
Provenance
The artist.
J.P. Lieberman, Detroit, Michigan, gift from the above.
Private collection, by descent.
Sotheby's, New York, 19 May 2004, lot 194, sold by the above.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.
Literature
"Stanley's Chromos," Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Michigan, September 19, 1869.
F.T. Reuter, Jr., Animal & Sporting Artists in America, Middleburg, Virginia, 2008, pp. 676, 804, illustrated (as The Deerslayer).
Exhibited
Cody, Wyoming, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Painted Journeys: The Art of John Mix Stanley, June 6, 2015-April 29, 2016, p. 247, no. 209, illustrated.
Post lot text

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Lot Essay

An extensive traveler throughout the vast Western frontier in the first half of the nineteenth century, John Mix Stanley ranks among the earliest and most celebrated chroniclers of the American West through his powerful images of Native American culture. A rare surviving example of Stanley’s major oil paintings, the majority of which are in institutional collections, The Deer-Slayers is not only a dramatic, engrossing depiction of an Indian hunt, but moreover a highly important work within the larger canon of Western art history.

Born in Canandaigua, New York, Stanley began his artistic career as an itinerant sign and portrait painter. He first explored the Native American subject in 1839 in Fort Snelling, Minnesota and soon after set up a studio in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma from 1842-45. In 1846, General Stephen Watts Kearny hired Stanley to be a topographical draughtsman through the northern territories of Mexico, traveling from present day Santa Fe, Mexico to San Diego, California. Utilizing daguerreotypes and sketches, Stanley continued to travel and paint in a range of locales including the Oregon territory and Hawaii. In 1853, he made his last trip West as the official artist for the Stevens Pacific Railroad Survey, which traveled from Saint Paul to the Puget Sound. Upon his return, Stanley settled as a studio artist and attempted to establish an “Indian Gallery” of his art in the manner of George Catlin, receiving positive praise for his work by contemporary Seth Eastman. Unfortunately, the majority of the gallery was lost to a fire at the Smithsonian Institute in 1865 as well as at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum that year, making the present work a supremely rare surviving example of Stanley’s important oil paintings.

According to Peter H. Hassrick, The Deer-Slayers is one of seven paintings Stanley had reproduced as chromolithographs via Storch and Kramer in Berlin from 1868-1871. Hassrick posits that Stanley produced another version of the image (unlocated), which is “slightly smaller and probably a bit earlier” and possibly “stirred enough attention when painted to encourage the artist to replicate it for a chromolithographer to copy it.” (Painted Journeys: The Art of John Mix Stanley, exhibition catalogue, Norman, Oklahoma, 2015, p. 247) Marketed as “the finest specimens of Chromo-Lithography yet presented to the public” by Storch and Kramer, the prints were immensely popular. (Painted Journeys, p. 248). By Stanley’s death in 1872, they had been widely disseminated—furthering not only the artist’s legacy but his distinct vision of the American west.

The other lithographs published by Storch and Kramer include Uncas, the Young Chief (1868, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Washington); The Indian Telegraph (1868, Rockwell Museum, Corning, New Hampshire); Gambling for a Buck (1867, Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas); The Trial of the Red Jacket (1869, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.); Snake in the Grass (1868, Autry National Center, Los Angeles, California) and Blackfeet Card Players (1869, American Museum of Western Art, Denver, Colorado).

Rendered with precise and intricate detailing, from the figures’ clothing to the meticulous foliage and waterfall in the background, The Deer-Slayers represents the artist at the peak of his craft. A contemporary review of the related lithograph praised, “'The Deer Slayers’ represents two Indian hunters climbing up a steep rocky ascent, dragging with them a newly killed deer. The rocks, the foliage, the slain deer…all seem true to the very life. The tone of the chromo is so excellent that it would be extremely hard to distinguish it from the original painting. As a forest scene it is unsurpassed.” (“Stanley’s Chromos.,” Detroit Free Press, 19 September 1869, p. 1) Elaborating further, Hassrick writes, “The composition is actually quite complex, angles are counter posed, and linear tensions vivify the sense of exertion for the lead hunter, confirming the perils of the hunt.” (Painted Journeys, p. 248)

Stanley’s colorful and romanticized depictions of Native American life such as The Deer-Slayers remain crucial art historical objects to this day as they represent the nuanced intercultural dynamics from the artist’s lifetime. As Scott Manning Stevens, a scholar of Native American studies, explains, “Moments in which our collective histories intertwined often appear in Stanley’s works because he actually witnessed life in the regions that he depicted. He, like other artists who traveled to the West, was determined to record this frontier world within the artistic idioms of his day. The aesthetics of history might be easily ignored if we were to remain completely dependent on the textural records of archive…Just as oral history may contribute to our notions of past events, so too the visual record contributes greatly to a more holistic sense of that contested history.” (“Witnessing History, Staging History: The American Indian Paintings of John Mix Stanley,” Painted Journeys: The Art of John Mix Stanley, p. 109)

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