Seth Eastman was one of several mid-19th-century artists
who became acquainted with the "West" and its Indian tribes
through his assignments as a U.S. Army officer. Born in Maine, he
attended West Point and following graduation was initially assigned
to Fort Crawford on the Mississippi. There he began to make untutored
sketches of landscapes and Indians. In 1830 he was assigned to Fort
Snelling (later Minneapolis), in the Minnesota Territory, to do
topographical studies. His extended trips to the west of the Fort
for that purpose brought him into contact with the Chippewa and
Eastman returned to West Point in 1833 as an assistant
drawing master. He had the good fortune that in 1834 the academy
administration contracted with an outstanding painter and teacher,
Robert Walter Weir, to take over the drawing professorship. Under
Weir, through 1844, Eastman was exposed to classical art training
and his subsequent work reflects this sound training in the basics.
In 1841 Eastman was reposted to Fort Snelling,
as commandant no less, and remained in that position until 1848.
By 1846 he had assembled a total of about 400 works, mostly of the
Sioux and Chippewa and also of the Seminoles of Florida whom he
had painted in the late 1830s. Following his return to Washington
he translated many of his earlier works into more finished paintings,
illustrating a 6-volume report commissioned by Congress (published
by the Smithsonian between 1853 and 1856), by Henry Schoolcraft,
titled History and Statistical Information Respecting the Indian
tribes of the United States.
Eastman continued to serve in the U.S. Army through
the end of the Civil War, retiring as a Brevet Brigadier General.
He was subsequently employed by Congress, at full pay, to paint
works for many of the rooms of the Committee on Indian Affairs.
Many of the paintings are still on view in the U.S. Capitol. He
also provided illustrations for two publications by his wife, Mary
Eastman: Dahcotah or, Lives and Legends of the Sioux Around Fort
Snelling (1849) and American Aborigiual Portfolio
Eastman did not romanticize his Indian subjects
but detailed their appearance, customs and costumes, while placing
them in their typical landscapes. While we have not been able to
identify the specific subject portrayed in the work currently offered,
we believe that it may be connected with his illustrations of his
wifes publications. In any event, it is an absolute gem.
Gerdts, William H. Art Across American Two Centuries of
Regional Painting 1710 1920: The Plains States and the West,
Abbeville Publishing Group, New York, 1990.
Myers, Fred A., Morand, Anne, et al. Thomas Gilcrease and His
National Treasure, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, 1987.