The first painting that N.C. Wyeth sold to a publisher, The Moose Call is a powerful, majestic scene that testifies to the young artist's talent and presages his future success. This began a lifelong series of images depicting Native Americans, which "signaled Wyeth's emergence as one of America's foremost painters of nature and the unspoiled wilderness." (D. Allen and D. Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 58)
Although Wyeth was only twenty-two when he painted The Moose Call, his prodigious talent is evident in the technical and compositional sophistication of the work. He chose to paint The Moose Call in monochromatic tones of gray, black and white to convey depth in the nocturnal expanse. The accuracy of the birch-bark canoe replete with detailed seams and the fringe and ornamentation on the man's clothes are testaments to the young artist's acute draftsmanship and penchant for detail. The reflection of the man and canoe in the still, glass-like water is masterfully executed. One senses that the night was still and silent, the air thick and heavy at the moment before it is punctured by the bellow of the moose call. Yet it is not merely Wyeth's technical virtuoso that accounts for the success of The Moose Call, it is his ability to create a scene that conveys far more than is depicted. Wyeth implies a further narrative while monumentalizing the Native American in a commanding visual soliloquy.
A great influence during Wyeth's formative years as an artist was the acclaimed illustrator Howard Pyle. In 1900, Pyle established Howard Pyle's School of Art in Wilmington, Delaware with a summer school in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Upon enrolling with the instructor in the fall of 1902, Wyeth "was immediately struck by Pyle's electrifying personality and his imaginative gifts." (S.C. Larsen in D. Michaelis, et al., Wondrous Strange: The Wyeth Tradition, Boston, Massachusetts, 1998, p. 17) While Wyeth adapted Pyle's penchant for narrative, interest in historic subject matter, and use of props such as period costumes for accuracy, it is in the way that his compositions differ from his teachers that define him as an artist. While Pyle's pictures tend to be filled with figures and action, Wyeth's works are often more controlled, contain less figures, and rely more on gesture and expression to convey narrative. The powerful presence of the solitary figure in The Moose Call speaks to the influence of another great illustrator, Frederic Remington, whose work Wyeth admired and had recently seen an exhibition of in New York.
It was Pyle who encouraged his young student to take The Moose Call to Scribner's Magazine. Shortly after painting the work, and with the encouragement of his admired teacher, Wyeth visited the magazine's New York office. The experience had substantial impact on Wyeth and began an interaction with publishers that would span his career. Later in life, he vividly recalled that seminal day, "In the early summer of 1904, fresh from my studies under Howard Pyle, I made my first sale of a creative painting. I sought the advice of Howard Pyle as to where it would be best to submit my painting, 'Wyeth,' he said, 'Always go to the best publishers first.' The next day found me in the great city of New York facing the small door at number 143 Fifth Avenue, and it was with fear and trembling that I was eventually ushered into the presence of Joseph Chapin, famed art director of Charles Scribner's Sons. His greeting was quietly pleasant and brief, and he promptly asked to see what I had ardently brought in to show. So I opened the hinged box in which the small painting was fastened and placed it in the most favorable light of that office of the most strange and tangled lighting. He looked at the canvas in silence, tipping his head to right and left in critical consideration. No change of expression; no words. There was an interval of exasperating and unrelated fussing with letters on his desk. My heart sank. Suddenly and rather tersely, he remarked that he would like to show the painting to Mr. Scribner. In ten minutes he returned, sat down again behind his desk and after a long pause said, 'We'll be glad to buy your picture and can offer seventy-five dollars for it. We might run it in one of the fall issues of the magazine.' There is no use in my trying to describe the overwhelming sense of joy, gratitude, and triumph I felt in that moment! Even to this day I can recapture some of the ecstasy of the adventure of that rainy morning in Chapin's office in the old building." (as quoted in J.E. Dell and W. Reed, eds., Visions of Adventure: N.C. Wyeth and the Brandywine Artists, New York, 2000, p. 63) This was the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship between Wyeth and Scribners, which published The Moose Call as an illustration for the October 1906 issue. The image was so popular that the magazine issued it as a print in three versions: hand-colored, black and white and sepia tinted.
In the later years, the noble Native American became a common theme for Wyeth and one that he would return to time and again throughout his career. As in The Moose Call, many of these compositions depict heroic solitary figures in natural settings and are imbued with a powerful silence and stillness.
This painting is I.40(NCW 852) in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné and is included in the catalogue raisonné database that are being compiled by the Brandywine River Museum and Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.