Sotheby’s, New York, NY, 2003
Legacy Gallery, Jackson, WY
Private collection, California
Eanger Irving Couse was known for a variety of work, including his lovely outdoor paintings showing idyllic nature scenes with Native American figures, and his iconic portraits, such as Elkfoot of the Taos Tribe, but some of his most timeless pieces are interior scenes of subjects carefully admiring objects and artifacts. A marvelous example of this work is Indian Boy and Brave Looking at a Blanket, a large painting showing two Taos models, their hair wrapped and dangling down both sides of their shoulders, as they peer down at a colorful weaving. The older subject—almost certainly Jerry Mirabel, a regular Couse model—cuts an imposing form with his strong arm at a right angle toward the blanket and one leg propped up against his body. Part still life, part portrait, Indian Boy and Brave Looking at a Blanket represents the kind of imagery the Taos Founders had to travel 2,000 miles to find.
Ernest L. Blumenschein wrote indignantly about the subjects available to other artists prior to the formation of the Taos Art Colony. “We were ennuied with the hackneyed subject matter of thousands of painters; windmills in a Dutch landscape; Brittany peasants with sabots; …lady in négligée reclining on a sumptuous divan; lady gazing in mirror; lady powdering her nose, etc., etc. We felt the need for a stimulating subject.” Judging by his response, it’s easy to see why artists flocked to Taos. It wasn’t just any subjects they were discovering. It was great American subjects.
While all the members of the Taos Society of Artists aligned themselves with this attitude, it was Couse who defined the look, the emotion and the humanity to this new school of art. “No one ever tried to paint the Indian in Couse’s way before. No one has ever taken him quite so seriously from a purely artistic standpoint,” the New York Sun wrote at the time. Couse’s granddaughter, Virginia Couse Leavitt, the author of Eanger Irving Couse: The Life and Times of An American Artist, 1866-1936, expands further: “Unlike George Catlin and Karl Bodmer, who more than a half-century earlier had made ethnographic records of Indians, or more recent artists like Frederic Remington and Charles Schreyvogel, whose paintings were illustrations of historic or imagined events, Couse approached his canvas foremost as a work of art in which formal considerations were primary. These were the formal considerations he had been taught as an academic painter: good drawing, classical composition, fidelity to nature-areas in which he excelled and ideals to which he remained faithful throughout his career.”
She continues: “Couse had much in common with those other academic painters of his day, whose well-modeled figures in carefully constructed interiors usually depicted women engaged in quiet domestic moments surrounded by the artifacts of their culture. His choice of the American Indian as subject, however, reflected his conviction that Indians were the one uniquely American subject available to this country’s figure painters. It was a belief shared by an ever-increasing number of artists, who turned away from the refined subjects of the eastern establishment to produce paintings of the indigenous peoples and rugged landscapes of the West.”
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Please note that the first unframed photo is most accurate for color. Framed photographs are to show the frame and are not color corrected to the painting.
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