Saturday, June 18, 2011

Aboriginal Heritage Month: Thayendanegea (Jospeh Brant) - as seen by different early artists

Interesting: Two paintings of Joseph Brant by two different artists. How can one person look so very different?

The picture on the left was painted by William Berczy, c.1807. a German artist who emigrated to the States, and from there to Canada. Berczy was the leader of the Markham, Ontario Berczy Mennonite Settlement. Click here to see the Wikipedia article.

The painting on the above right was by George Romney. Wikipedia states:
Portrait of Joseph Brant. Brant was visiting England with Guy Johnson at age 33 or 34 when Romney painted him in his London studio. Brant is shown wearing a white ruffled shirt, an Indian blanket, a silver gorget, a plummed headdress and carrying a tomahawk. The painting is today in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

The Berczy painting makes a token effort of presenting Brant in a more authentic context, in that it looks as if it was painted on location where Thayendanegea lived. Also, the Chief looks older then he does in the Romney work, which was painted around 17 years earlier.

When I look at the Berczy painting, I find myself wondering why and where the chief is pointing. Historical inreading suggests that it may be looking at his people and pointing to Canada where his people would be resettled in safety and as a reward for the loyalty to the crown.

I am intriqued by the way the artists painted Thayendanegea's face. Berczy gave us a Native Chief. Romney presented a styalized white man with white skin, sensual lips, and dark searching eyes.

Both paintings present the chief in ceremonial regalia. Romney has him wearing a Christian cross whereas Berczy gives us a Mohawk Chief wearing his hair cut in traditional Mohawk fashion.

The smaller work which can be seen immediately above was done by Gilbert Stuart. Gilbert paints Brant with a face which has a nostalgic look suggestive of what he and his people have lost.

The picture to the left,was done by William Armstrong,(who also painted the first picture of Toronto's city hall which was featured in an early blog entry) who was an early Canadian watercolourist. Armstrong lived between 1822 and 1914. Its pretty obvious that Armstrong never saw the chief, for Brant died in 1807, 15 years prior to Armstrong's birth.

This picture has the most discomforting representation of Chief Brant. His features look disturbingly non native and most unlike any of the faces we see. The revered feather which was seen Berczy's work, has been replaced by what looks like a couple of ostrich feathers. More then that, I find Armstrong's painting of Brant in a pink shirt with flowers disrespectful.

When you check the link below it will take you to a sizeable collection of Brant portraits, painted and drawn by many artists. It's obvious that Brant was a highly respected native leader who made a significant contribution to the development of early Canada. please click here.

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