This painting will be included in Virginia Couse Leavitt's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.
This work retains its original artist-designed frame.
A founder of the Taos Society of Artists, Eanger Irving Couse is best remembered for his intimate depictions of Native Americans painted with a high finish in a distinct style of his own. As summarized by Mary Carroll Nelson, "Couse's work contains certain recognizable characteristics: a sparsely clad Indian crouches in profile or squats on his heels; he is lit by firelight, strong sidelight, or moonlight that dramatizes his muscular form; he is engaged in a domestic act, such as drum-making, bead-drilling, wall-painting, or praying; he has a pensive withdrawn expression and is sealed in privacy. Details of gear are used for pictorial effect rather than strict accuracy. Couse was always the painter, not the reporter. Yet he was so involved with the Taos people that he conveyed a feeling of contact with their sacred rituals. For them, daily tasks, however repetitive, are made significant and dignified by their association with prayer, in the form of a song or an action." (The Legendary Artists of Taos, New York, 1980, p. 47)
With its impressive scale and vivid color palette, Flute Player at the Spring imbues the American Indian with the dignity and quiet spirituality that Couse appreciated in his subject—qualities that inform the best of his art throughout his career. The characters in Flute Player at the Spring appear undisturbed as they go about their ritual with quiet intention, reflecting the artist’s genuine attempt to depict his subjects in a direct and honest way. Laura Bickerstaff writes, "More than in any other aspect except color, Couse was interested in the authenticity of the Indian he was to paint. The more tenaciously they clung to the customs of their forebears, the more genuine they, and therefore the pictures of them, would be." (Pioneer Artists of Taos, Denver, Colorado, 1983, p. 80)
Flute Player at the Spring exhibits the finest aspects of Couse's works, portraying an intimate scene in a personal and powerful manner that conveys its universality. Couse depicts his two figures with remarkable attention to detail, accuracy of form and overall reverence, while maintaining the romantic and mystical qualities that are the hallmarks of his distinct style.
According to Virginia Couse Leavitt, the original owner of the present work, George Zabriskie, “was a long time friend and patron of Couse. He was an executive with the Pilsbury Flour Co. and during WWI was a ‘dollar a year man’ in Washington, serving as sugar and flour administrator. When Couse’s son, Kibbey, went into the army he was inadvertently assigned to the infantry, although he was a graduate engineer. Mr. Zabriskie interceded and Kibbey was transferred to the Signal Corp.” (unpublished letter, 1993)