Charles Bird King

Although Charles Bird King never visited a Native American village, he painted more portraits from life of North American Indians than almost any other artist of his time. Living and working in Washington, D.C., he was able to capture the likeness of members of the various delegations of Indian tribes who visited the Capitol during a period of government negotiation of Indian lands and rights. King was encouraged in this endeavor by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which sought, in this pre-camera era, to preserve a visual record of what it believed might be vanishing peoples. While he was never renowned for great technical achievement, King received critical attention for faithfully recording physical features and tribal costumes. Trained in the United States and London, he studied for some time with Benjamin West (1738-1820). Although a large number of King’s original paintings were destroyed in an 1865 fire that ravaged the Smithsonian Institution’s art collection, many survive in his own replicas as well as through painted copies and lithographs made by other artists after King’s originals.

Young Omahaw, War Eagle, Little Missouri, and Pawnees, 1821.  Credit:  National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
Young Omahaw, War Eagle, Little Missouri, and Pawnees, 1821. Credit: National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
White House Historical Association 462px-Hayne_Hudjihini_-_Eagle_of_Delight_-_by_Charles_Bird_King,_c1822
“Eagle of Delight” 1822 by Charles Bird King. Credit: White House Historical Society
Portrait of Julcee Mathla, A Seminole Chief
,1826  by Charles Bird King.  Credit:  Lowe Museum/University of Miami
Seminole Chief, 1826 portrait by Charles Bird King. Credit: Lowe Museum/University of Miami
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