Frank Schoonover, one of the best-known illustrators of the early twentieth century, is renowned for his images of the American frontier. "Capturing outdoor scenes of action was Frank Schoonover's natural delight - and the delight of his vast public. The Western United States and Canada was Schoonover's favorite setting. He had spent a great deal of time there: on horseback with the cowboys; traveling thousands of miles by canoe, dogsled and snowshoe with the Indians; and trekking many long miles afoot. He became a magician of dramatic outdoor composition and always had his public eagerly anticipating the next pictorial adventure." (C. Schoonover, Frank Schoonover, Illustrator of the North American Frontier, New York, 1976, p. 47)
Among his many robust subjects, his favorite was the Indian. "The image of an Indian in a canoe was a recurring theme for Schoonover. From 1903 to 1968, he portrayed the Indian in many different scenes - paddling in peaceful water, in wild rapids, in mountain streams, in solitude, and even as captive of an imperious scout. It was an image that sparked his imagination over and over, as it did during his Canadian trip in 1911, when he wrote in his diary: 'I watched the lake become moonlit and dreamed of how I would put it all on canvas - an Indian in a bark canoe, clear in the full brightness of the moon, in great and noble majesty.'" (S. Somerville in Visions of Adventure, N.C. Wyeth and the Brandywine Artists, p. 60)
An overwhelming sense of calm and quiet pervades A Northern Mist. The viewer is immediately aware that the subject of the painting, the lone Indian, is in command of his surroundings. Having glided through the water, the Indian's figure is to the right of the center of the composition, yet dominates it with strength. The Indian's paddle, dipped in the water, precisely controls the movement of the canoe. With his intimate knowledge of the outdoors, Schoonover picked a palette that conveys the feeling of the misty morning. In contrast to the light colors of the sky and water, the human figure is enriched with darker, more varied colors, emphasizing its importance.
Significantly, the work was not painted as an illustration, but the artist "entered it under the title Solitudes in a special show and competition among Brandywine artists at the Wilmington Society of Fine Arts. A reviewer for the International Studio magazine, December 1916, cited this painting as the strongest work in the show. It was sold immediately to Wilmington mill owner Joseph Bancroft, whose family's art collection was later to become the foundation of the Delaware Art Museum." (Visions of Adventure, N.C. Wyeth and the Brandywine Artists, p. 60)