Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Bear In Mind" (study)

6 x 6"
oil on panel

One of the star attractions in Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait's 1856 painting 'A Tight Fix - Bear Hunting, Early Winter'.  The scene brings to mind the movie The Revenant - a true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass, who's mauled by a grizzly and abandoned by his group of fur trappers.  Interesting is, although there's no direct evidence this scene is based on Hugh Glass, it is strikingly similar to scenes in the movie.  The Museum of Native American History, not far from Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas has one of the only rifles known to belong to Jim Bridger, one of the fur trappers in Hugh Glass's hunting group.

The summary of Tait's painting, in the museum, describes it as 'an icon of American cultural mythology and masculinity'.  When it was first shown, art critics said Tait 'botched the representation of the second hunter, making it unclear whether he's aiming at the bear - neither bear nor man is winning - so a bullet is the only solution to the 'tight fix'.  

More interesting, the summary goes on describing 'critics were particularly sensitive to an impasse between white and black fighters.'   Keep in mind, Tait painted this during the deadlocked war over slavery in the Kansas Territory.  The books of this time were Uncle Tom's Cabin and stories of Davy Crockett where hunting animals and runaway slaves were talked about in similar terms.  

Arthur Tait was born British, and moved to New York City at the age of 31.  He established a hunting camp in the Adirondack Mountains - completely immersed in the frontier life and sport hunting - he produced many paintings and lithographs of related scenes that were wildly popular during his career.

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