Frederick Arthur Verner
1836 - 1928
Brave of the Sioux Tribe
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1870 and on verso titled and dated on a label and inscribed "Sioux Tribe" on a label
36 x 27 1/2 in 91.4 x 69.8 cm
Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000
Sold for: $55,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
By descent to the present Private Collection, Calgary
W.H. Jackson, Descriptive Catalogue of Photographs of North American Indians, 1877, listed page 68, catalogue #599
Margaret R. Annett, Frederick Arthur Verner, Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings: Frederick Arthur Verner, National Gallery of Canada, 1976
Joan Murray, The Last Buffalo: The Story of Frederick Arthur Verner, Painter of the Canadian West, 1984, page 37
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings: Frederick Arthur Verner, November 1, 1976 – July 15, 1977, catalogue #11
The portrayal of First Nations peoples in Canada by Europeans dates back to Cornelius Krieghoff and Paul Kane in the mid-nineteenth century. Frederick Verner was influenced by Kane and his portraits, but Verner’s work was more naturalistic. Verner painted scenes of Sioux people in encampments set in the landscape, but his most extraordinary portrayals are close-ups of individual First Nations men. Here he portrays a young Sioux warrior, who exudes nobility and dignity, in a realistic style.
This portrait is extraordinary—Verner captures the sensitivity of the young man’s character and his natural poise. His slight smile radiates a Mona Lisa-like enigma. Sioux men and women both traditionally wore a lot of jewellery, and the young man’s adornments—earrings, wrist cuff and necklaces composed of beads, fur and entwined ribbons—add to his handsome appearance. His hands, one grasping a tomahawk, the other gently resting in front of the other, are relaxed, without any warlike connotation. Verner’s handling of paint is remarkable, from the softly modulated background to the man’s glowing warm skin tones, offset by the white blanket wrapped around him.
Verner was a photographer who worked for Notman and Fraser, a prominent photographic studio in Toronto. He painted from photographs in the early 1860s, likely the source of his naturalistic approach to his portraits, then in 1867, he also started drawing Indigenous subjects from life. The Sioux people lived in the northern Great Plains—the Prairies in Canada and North and South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota in the USA—and they had a strong hunting and warrior culture. In her book The Last Buffalo: The Story of Frederick Arthur Verner, Painter of the Canadian West, Joan Murray indicates that for portraits such as this, Verner referred to photographs, and also to sketches of Indigenous clothing and jewellery from sources such as the National Gallery of Canada collection. She also wrote that “the way the subjects relate to the picture space and their pose betray the use of a book source: George Catlin’s North American Indians ‘written during eight years’ travel (1832 – 1839) amongst the Wildest Tribes of Indians in North America,’ as Catlin subtitled his book.”
In Brave of the Sioux Tribe, the tomahawk the young warrior is holding is a pipe tomahawk, a war hatchet that was also a smoking pipe—note the bowl on the top. These objects were produced in metal by European and American artisans and given as diplomatic trade gifts to First Nations people, such as when trade relationships were being negotiated. They were also decorated with symbols—like the heart on the blade. The more ornate the tomahawk was, the more prestigious it was. Tobacco, a plant sacred to Indigenous peoples, had ritual uses. Over time, the pipe tomahawk became increasingly ceremonial and was used more as a pipe than as a weapon, but it continued to symbolize the choice Europeans and native peoples faced whenever they met: peace or war.
Murray indicated that Verner painted only a small number of portrayals such as this one. She wrote that “family legend speaks of twelve portraits,” making Brave of the Sioux Tribe a rare and important work.
The Glenbow Museum has two fine portraits in this format in its collection: Ta-ne-ze-pa (Sioux Dandy) and Ne-bah-quah-om (Big Dog), Chippewa, both canvases from 1862.
Please note that new information has come to light regarding the model for this painting. The source for the image appears to be a photograph from 1867 by the American photographer William Henry Jackson, who notes the identity of the sitter as a Pawnee warrior from Oklahoma, whose name was Ke-wuk-o-car-war-ry, Fox on the War-path. The Pawnee are a Plains Indian tribe who lived on the Platte River in Nebraska, until they relocated to Oklahoma in 1876. In the source photograph, the pose and details such as the jewellery and the tomahawk are identical to those in the painting. The photograph is included in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Francis Parkman photographs, #170.215. Jackson and his brother set up a studio in Omaha, Nebraska in 1867. He photographed a number of Pawnee women, children and men. Many of these photographs appeared in Jackson’s Descriptive Catalogue of Photographs of North American Indians, issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1877. The photograph of Ke-wuk-o-car-war-ry is listed in the catalogue, #599. It is further noted that he was also known under the alias Fat George and that he was assistant carpenter at the photographic agency.
We thank Mary Margaret Johnston Miller, Art Archivist, Library and Archives Canada, for providing the above information.
Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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