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Posted by Lori Cohen, Gallery Director on

One of the premier artists of the American West, Seth Eastman created some of the most memorable images of the frontier, its inhabitants and wildlife. This beautifully rendered watercolor, Inscription on a Buffalo Robe from New Mexico is an important ethnographic record depicting Indians engaged in hand-to-hand battle.  Eastman captures the nuances of the original hide decoration with remarkable fidelity and sensitivity.
In 1848-49 Eastman made a journey down the Mississippi through Texas, recording the scenes which caught his eye in incredibly delicate and atmospheric sketches and watercolors.  A realistic artist, Eastman recorded accurately the peoples, landscapes, and animals he witnessed during his far-reaching travels, but he was much more than a mere draftsman.  The dimensions of atmosphere and feeling, in combination with his ability to draw with sharply etched realistic detail, gives his work a supreme artistic quality.
The foremost pictorial historian of the American Indian and of frontier life in the nineteenth century, Eastman was a career army officer and talented artist widely appreciated today for his ethnographic detail.  Assigned to frontier duty, including a seven year stint at Fort Snelling in the 1840s, Eastman set out to preserve a visual record of Indian life which was then undergoing rapid change. Enabled by his long-term military residency among the Indians to become familiar not only with their colorful external trappings but with the whole complex fabric of Indian culture, Eastman painted all of the commonplace activities of everyday Indian life. 
Native warriors commonly recorded important events and accomplishments through conceptual figures and symbols painted on hide, wood or stone.  This watercolor carries an echo of a way of life that was vanishing even as Eastman recorded it, attaching a level of nostalgia to an image that the artist himself might not have been able to envision.
For additional information on this watercolor and other works by Seth Eastman, please contact Philadelphia Gallery Director Lori Cohen at (215) 735-8811.

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