From the onset of his career, Eanger Irving Couse sketched Indian subjects, beginning with the Chippewa and Ojibwa Indians of his birthplace, Saginaw, Michigan. While still a teenager, he commenced his formal studies first at the Chicago Art Institute and later at the National Academy of Design in New York. In 1886 he traveled to France, where he enrolled in the Academie Julien under the tutelage of the celebrated academician, William Adolphe Bouguereau. He stayed in France for nearly a decade and chiefly painted imagery that was popular at the time, namely depictions of the European peasantry and landscapes. In 1889, while in Paris, he also married fellow art student Virginia Walker, a rancher's daughter from Washington near the Oregon border. In 1891 they traveled together to the Walker family's ranch in Klikitat County for a year-long visit. While there, Couse painted among the Klikitat, Yakima, and Umatilla tribes and produced his first oils of American Indians. Describing these early images, art historian Mary Carroll Nelson writes that "these small, rosy-sky scenes are charmingly deft, with painterly brushwork. Slightly more sketchy than his later work, their deep pastel hues are reminiscent of the Barbizon school in France. In fact, there is a strong link between the vision of the Barbizon painters and that of Irving Couse. Both attempted to paint 'simple folk' in a natural setting and both embued [sic] the model with heroic form." (The Legendary Artists of Taos, New York, 1980, p. 42)
As a founder in 1912 of the Taos Society of Artists, Couse is best remembered for his intimate depictions of Southwest Indians painted with a high finish in a distinct style of his own. As summarized by Ms. 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form; he is engaged in a domestic act, such as drum-making, bead-drilling, wall-painting, or praying; he has a pensive withdrawn expression and is sealed in privacy.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, p. 47)
This painting will be included in Virginia Couse Leavitt's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.