WASHINGTON, DC.- The first exhibition of George de Forest Brush's remarkable paintings of American Indians will be on view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, September 14, 2008 through January 4, 2009. Inspired in part by the recent rediscovery of An Aztec Sculptor (1887), an important work missing for a century, the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue will offer groundbreaking new research on Brush's workslong prized by collectors, yet rarely available for public viewing. George de Forest Brush: The Indian Paintings is organized by the National Gallery of Art in association with the Seattle Art Museum, where it will be on view February 26 through May 24, 2009.
"With the rediscovery of lost works by Brushtwo of which will enter the collection of the National Gallery as giftsand the advent of new scholarship exploring the complex issues associated with images of native people, we are pleased to present the first exhibition focused exclusively on Brush's paintings of American Indians," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "We are grateful to our colleagues and our neighbor across the National Mall, the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, for their essential contributions to the exhibition."
The exhibition of 21 paintings includes life studies of young Arapahoe and Shoshone men completed in 1882, while Brush was living in Wyoming, as well as studio paintings with Indian subjects completed following the artist's return east. Combining extraordinary technical skills acquired through years of study in Paris with firsthand experience of life in the American West, Brush produced a series of Indian images during the decade of the 1880s unlike any exhibited earlier. It is now clear that these beautifully crafted images are also rich in contextual references.
Declaring himself an artist rather than an ethnographer, Brush used the image of the Indian to address a number of contemporary issues, including his deep skepticism regarding the benefits of rapid industrialization and his concern that a nation racing toward modernism was losing its regard for art born of craft and tradition.
George de Forest Brush (1854/18551941)
Born in Tennessee, raised in Brooklyn and Darien, Connecticut, Brush was "discovered" by a portraitist who admired the young boy's drawings. He began his studies at the National Academy of Design in New York and went on to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he was a pupil of Jean-Léon Gérôme. In the spring of 1882 Brush journeyed to Wyoming and lived on the Wind River Reservation for several months before traveling north to Montana, where he spent nearly a year among the Crow. After returning east in the fall of 1883, he began teaching at the Art Students League and composing the Indian paintings that quickly brought him attention from both critics and collectors.
Brush continued to focus on the Indian as the subject of his art throughout the 1880s, traveling to Florida in the hopes of sketching Geronimo and to Canada to find Indian models in their own environment. About mid-decade Brush began to turn from multifigured narratives to compositions focused on a single, isolated individual. Initially, the new compositions often featured an Indian and a birdboth natural inhabitants of unsullied, pristine landscapes. Later, Brush placed his solitary figures in enclosed and shallow spaces where the implied narrative was not hunting, but rather the creation of art.
In 1890 he undertook a radical change of direction, producing numerous images of his wife and children in the "secular Madonna" mode popular at the turn of the century. In 1937 a disastrous fire destroyed Brush's studio in Dublin, New Hampshire. Four years later, he died, never having fully recovered from the loss.
During the 1880s, Brush's Indian paintings were acquired by the most prominent collectors of the day. Remarkably, a number of the works remained in the same families through several generations; making it difficult to see and study these important paintings. The finest of these stunningly beautiful works will be seen together for the first time in the exhibition.
The curator of George de Forest Brush: The Indian Paintings is Nancy K. Anderson, curator of American and British paintings, National Gallery of Art. She was also the curator and principal catalogue author for Thomas Moran (1997) and Frederic Remington: The Color of Night (2003).