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Washington in the Indian Council, with related study

Washington in the Indian Council, with related study
signed and dated 'J.B. Stearns. 1847' (lower left)
oil on canvas
36 x 50 in. (91.4 x 127 cm.)
Painted in 1847.
The artist.
American Art-Union, New York, commissioned from the above.
Rockwood Barrett, Rutland, Vermont, acquired from the above, 1848.
J.N. Bartfield Gallery, New York.
W.E. Weiss, 1975.
Mr. & Mrs. William D. Weiss, Jackson, Wyoming, by descent.
Coeur d'Alene, Reno, Nevada, 26 July 2003, lot 120.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.
District School Journal of the State of New York, Syracuse, New York, December 1, 1848, p. 144.
M.E. Thistlethwaite, The Image of George Washington: Studies in Mid-Nineteenth-Century American History Painting, New York, 1979, pp. 17, 232, no. 29, illustrated.
New York Historical Society, Collections of the New York Historical Society: The John Watts De Peyster Publication Fund Series, New York, 1953, p. 337.
S. Boehme, E.J. Hansen, “The Feathered Cape and Painted Proof: Stearns Painting Resolves Mystery on Origin of Unusual Feathered Capes,” Points West, Cody, Wyoming, 1997, illustrated.
J.L. Glickman, Painted in Blood: Remember Wyoming, America’s First Civil War, Cody, Wyoming, 1997, illustrated.
N. Lurie, D. Anderson, “A Lost Art Form,” Museum Anthropology Journal, vol. xxii, no. 2, Arlington, Virginia, 1998, cover illustration.
P.R. Anawalt, The Worldwide History of Dress: The Origins of Fashion from the Paleolithic to the Present, New York, 2007, p. 370, illustrated.
H. Adams, What's American About American Art? A Gallery Tour in the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, 2008, p. 21 (as Washington and the Indian Council).
New York, American Art-Union Exhibition, 1848.
Cody, Wyoming, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Whitney Western Art Museum, The Winchester Bicentennial, April 15-October 15, 1976.
Cody, Wyoming, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Whitney Western Art Museum, The Feathered Cape, April 1997.
Further details
This lot includes a related oil study:

Study for 'Washington and the Indians'
oil on canvas
13 3⁄4 x 20 in. (34.9 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1847.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

A member of the National Academy of Design and honorary member of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Junius Brutus Stearns is most renowned for his depictions of George Washington. Capturing vignettes showing different sides of the President’s life, from farmer and husband to soldier and statesman, Stearns’ Washington series also includes four paintings in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia—The Marriage of Washington to Martha Custis (1849), Washington as Farmer at Mount Vernon (1851), Washington as Statesman at the Constitutional Convention (1856), and Washington as Captain in the French and Indian War (1858)—as well as Washington on his Deathbed (1851, Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio).

Painted in 1847, Washington in the Indian Council predates the others in the series and depicts a scene from Washington’s mission into the Ohio territory when he was just a twenty-one-year-old major serving in the Virginia militia during the French and Indian War. Washington volunteered to be Governor Robert Dinwiddie’s emissary in relaying to the French that they must withdraw from Western lands claimed by Virginia. Washington’s report from his over two-month journey not only awakened colonial interest in defending the Western frontier, but also first brought the young soldier fame in both America and abroad. Subsequently, the adventure was also captured by other 19th Century Genre artists, most famously by William Ranney and Daniel Huntington.

The present work depicts Washington’s visit to the trading village of Logstown on the Ohio River, near present-day Pittsburgh, where Washington and his interpreter Christopher Gist met with members of the Six Nations of Iroquois chiefs in the area to remind them of their alliances with the British over the French. As described in the District School Journal of the State of New York in 1848, “The Indian figures are portraits from the Onondagas, among whom may be recognized several of their most prominent Chiefs, and those of lower rank, bearing the peculiar names of John Smoke, Tonedoga, Jodocksete &c." (District School Journal of the State of New York, 1848, p. 144) A unique arrangement wherein several independent tribes formed a league who worked together in the form of a Confederacy, is said to have influenced Washington, as well as Benjamin Franklin, in their own designs for America’s constitution and entire notion of democracy.

The period reviewer went on to record, “The Indian character is most admirably represented by the artist, while the subject of the painting is easily distinguishable by the most casual observer." (District School Journal of the State of New York, 1848, p. 144) Indeed, Stearns’ subject is easily identifiable as the artist was highly committed to accuracy in his historic paintings. In fact, when he applied for a commission from the American Art-Union in 1847 to complete the present work, he submitted not only an oil study for the composition (included in the present lot) but also an extract from Washington’s journal about the event. As seen in the finished work, Stearns’ attention to detail extends beyond portraying his European subjects, Washington as a stately young politician and Gist amongst the men at right, or the Native leaders believed to be present at the time, to also finely depict the various costumes of the Indian peoples, including a intricately feathered cape on one of the female spectators.

Capturing an American hero at the very beginning of his career as soldier and statesman, Stearns’ Washington in the Indian Council sheds light on a lesser-known side of his subject’s storied life, further adding to the legend of Washington that resonates today as much as it did in both Washington’s and Stearns’ eras.

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