Charles Bird King and his portraits/paintings of American Indian Chiefs
Hatne Hudjihini Eagle of Delight-Oteo tribe
Charles Bird King (1785-1862), an American artist, is best known for doing portrait. He is especially notable for his portraiture of American Indian delegates who came to Washington for various reasons.
He was born in Newport, Rhode Island and the only child of Deborah Bird and Captain Zebulon King who fought in the Revolutionary War. The family moved west but near Marietta Ohio his father was killed and scalped by Indians. . Four year old Charles and his mother moved back to Newport.
Anacamegishca, Ojibwa Warrior
King went to New York when he was fifteen to study under Edward Savage, a portrait painter. At twenty he went to London to study under Benjamin West at the Royal Academy Later. he worked in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Richmond and eventually settled in Washington. After gaining a solid reputation he started his own studio and gallery. He made friends with such people as John Quincy Adams, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, James Monroe and Daniel Webster.
King apparently did his portraits in his studio in Washington and not actually on the frontier, the pictures are important as early documentation of the Indians. Other artist also painted some portraits for the collection. However, the majority were by King. But only a portion of the Indians were Plains Indians.
Kee-shes-wa, Fox Chief
Jack-O-Pea, Ojibwa Warrior
The Indian gallery
“As early as 1821, under the auspices of the War Department,
an ‘Indian Gallery’ was established in Washington,” from Appendix to Bernard DeVoto’s
Across the Wide Missouri. The book dates back to 1947, but still a good
history of the fur trade on the frontier.
Thomas McKinney held several positions in the government, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It was his influence that got King the contract to paint the Indians portraits. Some of the paintings that were destroyed were in McKinney’s lithographic collection and preserved in that form.
Little Crow, Sioux Warrior
Style and Influence
King’s style was influenced by the Dutch school and he was also known to stay within the confines of the traditional styles he learned when he was young. The government commissioned him to do portraits of the Indians and also of celebrated war heroes. He is not well remembered, according to Wikipedia, because his work was not particularly innovative in a time when there were many good artists around. Also much of his Indian work was lost in a fire at the Smithsonian.
Tshusick, Ojibwa woman
Chief Wapello, Musquakee Chief
This article concentrates on his Indian work. For those interested in more information:
Viola, Herman J. The Legacy of Charles Bird King. 1976.
Sharitarish (Wicked Chief)
Monchousia (White Plume)
Shaumonekusse (Prairie Wolf)
Red Jacket or Keeper Awake, Seneca War Chief
- Charles Bird King Online
Charles Bird King [American Painter, 1785-1862] Guide to pictures of works by Charles Bird King in art museum sites and image archives worldwide.