John Mix Stanley was an artist-explorer, an American painter of landscapes, and Native American portraits and tribal life. Born in the Finger Lakes region of New York, he started painting signs and portraits as a young man. In 1842 he traveled to the American West to paint Native American life. In 1846 he exhibited a gallery of 85 of his paintings in Cincinnati and Louisville. During the Mexican–American War, he joined Colonel Stephen Watts Kearney's expedition to California and painted accounts of the campaign, as well as aspects of the Oregon Territory.
Stanley continued to travel and paint in the West, and mounted a major exhibit of more than 150 works at the Smithsonian Institution in 1852. Although he had some Congressional interest in purchasing the collection, he was unsuccessful in completing a sale to the government. He never recovered his expenses for a decade of intensive work and travel.
In 1854 he exhibited a 42-scene panorama of western scenes in Washington, DC: Baltimore, New York and London, but it has been lost. More than 200 of his paintings, maps and other work being held at the Smithsonian were lost in an 1865 fire.