The Pursuit (1855) by Arthur Fitzwilliam TaitMilwaukee Art Museum
The frontier was the subject of Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait’s most popular images, and he was considered one of the leading painters of the American West.
Prior to his immigration to the United States in 1850 from England, he’d seen an exhibition in Paris of Native American portraits and western landscapes by traveler and American painter George Catlin (1796–1872), which helped inspire his choice of subject matter.
The Pursuit shows a frontier trapper (someone who hunted animals) chasing a Native American across the open prairie.
Dodging the trapper’s gunshot, the Native American takes aim with his spear.
In the distance, a second battle takes place between Native Americans and trappers.
Tait’s horses have all four legs outstretched, off the ground, as if in midflight, consistent with the understanding of the animal’s gallop at the time.
In the late 1800s, photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s experiments with stop-motion revealed that all four hooves of a horse leave the ground only when its legs are kicked inward.
The Last War Whoop (1855) by Arthur Fitzwilliam TaitMilwaukee Art Museum
Here, in the second painting, The Last War Whoop, the Native American has been defeated, his weaponry at his side.
He gives one last heroic yell.
The trapper (who seems to have shed his jacket from Pursuit) dismounts his steed in preparation to vanquish his enemy.
His comrades are visible in the distance.
The indigenous peoples were seen as an obstacle to white settlement as American borders advanced westward. These paintings reflect the perception that the Native Americans needed to be conquered and vanquished.
Snapshot in time
These images do not document actual Native Americans or their lives.
Tait, in fact, never traveled farther west than New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. He based his paintings on secondhand, sometimes outdated, information and images.
Because of this, Tait meant for his paintings to be frozen snapshots in time that illustrate the adventures of frontiersmen.
Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait
(American, b. England, 1819–1905)
The Pursuit and The Last War Whoop, 1855
Oil on canvas
30 × 44 3/8 in. (76.2 × 112.71 cm) and 30 × 44 in. (76.2 × 111.76 cm)
Gift of Edward S. Tallmadge as a memorial to the men who loyally and selflessly gave their lives for our country in World War II
Photographer credit: John R. Glembin/Larry Sanders