Arts Everyday Living: Native Americans in Art–Portrait of the Chiefs & Leaders, Nobility & Dignity

Charles Bird King, Young Omahaw, War Eagle, Little Missouri, and Pawnees, 1821, oil on canvas, 28 inches x 36 1/8 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., Gift of Miss Helen Barlow, 1985.


Title: Young Omahaw, War Eagle, Little Missouri and Pawnees

Artist: Charles Bird King (1785-1862)


They startle us initially. Emerging boldly from the canvas, so striking in their colorful regalia. They are leaders of the Plains, at the peak of their power. Handsome and proud, as well as courageous, unafraid of any enemy that threatens them.

Our nation’s first occupants, ruling over a vast area of open space and endless horizons. But, in 1821, when this art work was painted by artist, Charles Bird King, their world was beginning to disappear. By the end of the nineteenth century, the glorious days of their civilization would be a fading memory.

Along with George Catlin, Charles Bird King is considered one of the most important painters of Native Americans. After studying and working in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Richmond and Baltimore as well as London, King chose the new capital of Washington, D.C. as his permanent residence. There, in cooperation with the United States government, he depicted more than one hundred portraits of prominent Indian leaders from 1821 to 1842.




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This media is in the public domain (free of copyright restrictions), Smithsonian.

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