N.C. Wyeth's reputation as America’s preeminent illustrator was cemented through his paintings of the American West, often accompanying vibrant stories published in the periodicals of the day or in classic novels such as The Last of the Mohicans. While many of his commissions demanded moments of extreme daring and action, Douglas Allen writes, “To N.C. Wyeth, the American Indian he found of greatest interest was the Indian of [long] ago, the Indian faced by our forefathers when they first came to this land to settle…He was the Indian of poetry." (D. Allen, D. Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth, The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 57) Perhaps no work by Wyeth embodies the spirit of “the Indian of poetry” so much as his mesmerizing mural Indian Love Call.
Wyeth’s initial attraction to and familiarity with Native American subjects was due in large part to the drawings and paintings of Frederic Remington. His interest was further reinforced with his own Western travels in 1904 at the age of 21. Wyeth set out for Colorado and New Mexico and confronted the magnificent, vast and raw landscape for the first time. In a December 14, 1904 letter to his mother, he described, “The life is wonderful, strange—the fascination of it clutches me like some unseen animal—it seems to whisper, ‘Come back, you belong here, this is your real home.’” From this trip, Wyeth gathered material which he drew upon for the rest of his career, creating pictures that shaped Americans’ views of their country’s potential as a vast and challenging land of infinite promise. The individuals he encountered also informed future figurative depictions as he routinely collected clothing and artifacts, thereby allowing him to render every element in exacting detail.
One of Wyeth’s favorite motifs in his Native American paintings was the solitary Indian in a reflective mood. Indeed, for a series of poems called “The Moods” in the December 1909 issue of Scribner’s Magazine, the artist had explored a similar scene of a lone Indian canoer in profile called Autumn. “Waiting,” as well as one of an Indian playing a reed flute along a riverbank entitled Spring “Song.” Of the latter work, Wyeth explained, "It is realistic, and there is the Indian and his reed, the splashing brooklet and rocks, etc. But when one looks at it he forgets the realism—he is removed from the consciousness of looking at a realistic picture and thinks of nothing but the spirit of spring. Pleasant thoughts and imaginings of the charms of the spring, of the woods, of the brook, and of life fill his soul—that's what I want the picture to inspire when it is done." (letter to his mother, May 1909)
Indian Love Call inspires a similarly powerful immersion within the tranquility of the landscape, reflecting “Wyeth's emergence as one of America's foremost painters of nature and the unspoiled wilderness." (N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, p. 58) Floating gently by in his canoe, the central figure softly serenades the female beauty approaching from a teepee on his left. Inviting the viewer into this harmonious space, Wyeth lavishes his composition with sun-dappled blues and greens and plays with the light as it shines through the foliage and reflects on the still, clear water. He stages his composition with towering birch trees framing either side of his characters, and underscores the romanticism of the scene by surrounding the canoe with bursting water lilies and irises. The grand scale and bold colors culminate in an absorbing love tale, depicting the Native American as a symbol of the quiet power and soothing peace of the untouched American landscape.
Indian Love Call was painted in 1927 for John B. Williams of Philadelphia, an employee of the Curtis Publishing Company, and possibly titled after a song included in the 1924 operetta-style musical Rose Marie, later popularized by Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in 1936. Wyeth executed 20 mural commissions in the 1920s and 30s, including work for The National Geographic Society, The Missouri State Capital, First National Bank of Boston, and Hotel Roosevelt. The present mural hung above the mantel of the Williams home for eighty years prior to its acquisition by T. Boone Pickens in 2007.