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Howard Terpning (B.1927)
Howard Terpning (B.1927)
Howard Terpning (B.1927)
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Howard Terpning (B.1927)
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The Legend of the West: Iconic Works from the T. Boone Pickens Collection
Howard Terpning (B. 1927)

Flags on the Frontier

Details
Howard Terpning (B. 1927)
Flags on the Frontier
signed and dated '©/Terpning/2001/CA' (lower right)—inscribed with title and signed again (on the backing board)
oil on canvas
37 ¼ x 56 in. (94.6 x 142.2 cm.)
Painted in 2001.
Provenance
The artist.
Coeur d’Alene, Reno, Nevada, 28 July 2001, lot 100, sold by the above.
J.N. Bartfield Galleries, New York.
Acquired by the late owner from the above, 2006.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott

Lot Essay

Rendered with vivid color and rigorous detail, Howard Terpning’s Flags on the Frontier is a dynamic tour de force, embodying the artist’s enduring passion of the American West. Inspired by the true story of General George Armstrong Custer, the artist imagines a historic scene underscoring cooperation, rather than conflict, between soldiers and Native Americans. Terpning explained of the present work: “There was great pageantry on the plains with flags and feathers flying, so I decided to combine these symbols in one painting. This is the 1875 period with the Cavalry Guidon and Custer's personal guidon. I had contemplated using the regimental flag, but decided the bold red and blue would be more striking in the painting. The banner staff with eagle feathers flying and the hooked lance with feathers and ribbon were flags of a different sort but very colorful and meaningful to the men who carried them. It was certainly in the realm of possibility that these Crow scouts could be galloping alongside the troopers heading for a long-ago conflict that we can only imagine."

In 1873, General George Armstrong Custer was sent by the United States military to the Northern Plains region. There he engaged in numerous confrontations with the Lakota in the Yellowstone region, a conflict which eventually led to his demise in 1876 in the Battle of Little Bighorn. While best known for this legendary "Last Stand" against the Native Americans, as depicted in Flags on the Frontier, Custer received help from Crow Indians, a tribe friendly with the United States at the time. Indeed, in his second to last letter to his wife, Custer wrote, “I now have some Crow scouts with me, as they are familiar with the country.” (as quoted in E.B. Custer, “Boots and Saddles” Or, Life in Dakota with General Custer, Norman, Oklahoma, 1961, p. 275)

In Flags on the Frontier, Terpning uses these historical facts to reimagine a scene in his hallmark style. An avid student of history, and unwilling to compromise truth for the sake of artistry, Terpning is sure to gather information, confirm the accuracy and execute numerous drawings in preparation for his works. Flags on the Frontier is no exception. However, Terpning's choice to depict not the most famous confrontation of Custer's Last Stand, but rather of soldier and Indian working side-by-side, is notable. His decision to represent a moment of unity versus violence reinforces his commitment to sensitive depictions of the original inhabitants of the American West.

In the present work, the two cavalrymen ride on their steeds, flags held high, as the Crow scouts to their right confidently charge ahead, their stances reinforcing their in-depth knowledge of the land. Anchored between a brilliant blue sky and glowing plains, the colorful hues of the flags harmoniously grace the sky. Using a vivid palette of blues and reds, with Flags on the Frontier, Terpning earns his reputation as the premier contemporary storyteller of the American West.

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