Alfred Jacob Miller was one of the first American artists to train extensively in Europe. After showing exceptional promise in his native Baltimore, his family decided to send him to Paris for further study. In France, Miller was exposed to the works of Rembrandt and Delacroix, and later traveled on to Rome and the Vatican museums. But it was not until he returned to America that he found his greatest inspiration, in the landscape and people of the American West.
Given the circumstances of Miller's first encounter with the frontier, it is not surprising that he maintained a romantic attitude towards its wild beauty. In 1837, the Scottish nobleman, Captain William Drummond Stewart, hired Miller to record one of his last expeditions along the Oregon Trail. Stewart's party headed across the Rocky Mountains to the fur trader's rendezvous on the Green River in Oregon. There the artist encountered mountain men, hunters, trappers, and witnessed a performance by local Snake Indians. Exhilarated by the new sights of the Northwest, Miller worked furiously to capture the landscape and people in his sketches. He noted that he rarely stopped during the midday breaks, writing that "the time however to me was too valuable to indulge in the luxury, -- so immediately after the halt, I would mount the wagon, get out my port-folio, and go to work." (quoted in M. Ross The West of Alfred Jacob Miller, Norman, Oklahoma, 1951, p. XIX) These sketches formed the basis of the paintings commissioned by Stewart for his home in Scotland, and Miller returned to this portfolio for inspiration throughout his career .
Miller's interest in the West was part of a larger American appreciation for its burgeoning frontier. "Admiration of exotic types was typical of the romantic spirit in art, which found the American Indian either a noble remnant of a once strong culture or a vicious savage preventing the spread of civilization. Paralleling Delacroix's experience, Alfred Jacob Miller relished the opportunity to observe Indian tribes and to experience a different culture as he traveled west with Stewart." (R. Tyler, ed., Alfred Jacob Miller: Artist on the Oregon Trail, Fort Worth, Texas, 1982, pp. 49-50) In Sioux Camp, Miller contrasts the wild, primitive landscape with the noble posture of the Indians and their horses in the foreground. Above the figures, dark clouds retreat over the rugged mountains, and their faces are still cast in the shadow of the passing storm. Yet drawn together with their horses, they form a pyramid in the foreground that echoes the strong peak of the mountain above. Shafts of sunlight cut diagonally across the composition, promising new hope for the day. Rather than being made savage by their surroundings, the man and woman have overcome their challenges with stoic resolution.
For Miller, the physical hardships of frontier life represent moral challenges and the opportunity to develop one's character. Drawing on his training in Europe, he used images from Antiquity to express outwardly the inner strength of the men he admired. "Miller's Indian braves relate closely to classical sources and suggest Roman orators and Antique and Renaissance equestrian monuments Miller recognized parallels between the Greek ideals and the American Indian and he even found the Indian a superior model: 'American sculptors travel thousands of miles to study Greek statues in the Vatican at Rome, seemingly unaware that within their own country there exists a race of men equal in form and grace (if not superior) to the finest beau ideal ever dreamed of by the Greeks.'" (Alfred Jacob Miller, p. 56)
Oil on canvas
THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
Alfred Jacob Miller
Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum, American West, February-March 1975, no. 2, illustrated
Memphis, Tennessee, Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Legendary Artists of the Frontier: The John F. Eulich Collection, September 1991-January 1995, illustrated (This exhibition also traveled to: Peoria, Illinois, Lakeview Museum of Art and Sciences; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, National Cowboy Hall of Fame; Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum; Montgomery, Alabama, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts; Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hunter Museum of Art; Savannah, Georgia, Telfair Academy of Art; West Palm Beach, Florida, Norton Gallery and School of Art; Dallas, Texas, Dallas Museum of Art; Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Museum of Art; and Little Rock, Arkansas, Arkansas Art Center)
17 3/8 x 23¾ in. (44.1 x 60.4 cm.)
Kennedy Quarterly, June 1974, no. 77, illustrated
R. Tyler, ed., Alfred Jacob Miller: Artist on the Oregon Trail, Fort Worth, Texas, 1982, no. 426E, p. 346, illustrated
R. Stewart, The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, Dallas, Texas, 1986, p. 21, illustrated
Kennedy Galleries, New York, circa 1950.
Dr. Lester E. Bauer, Detroit, Michigan.
Sale: Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 27 October 1971, lot 26, illustrated.
Robert E. Peters, Scottsdale, Arizona, acquired from the above.
Kennedy Galleries, New York, 1977.
Lyle S. Woodcock, St. Louis, Missouri.
Ira Spanierman, New York.
John F. Eulich, Dallas, Texas, acquired from the above, 1984.
Sotheby's New York, 20 May 1998, lot 54.
Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.