The story of old America. Indian mythos among western society evolved over a long history of contact. In all depictions, the natives slowly adopt the noble savage ideal.

Folding Screen with Indian Wedding and Flying Pole (Biombo con desposorio indígena y palo volador), Unknown, c 1690, From the collection of: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Here is a sensationalized and exotic scene from the beginnings of colonization. These types of depictions sold well, being fascinating and alien. Ironically, these types of paintings continued into the 19th century, because paintings of Indians with guns and alcohol were seen as less authentic.
The Landing of Columbus in America, study for a painting (destroyed in 1777) for the Sala del Minor Consiglio, Palazzo Ducale, Genoa, Christopher Columbus, 1715–18, From the collection of: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Here we see one of the better romanticizations of western contact. This type of painting is also well represented in English explorer John White, but his drawings are not here.
George Washington, Gilbert Stuart, 1797, From the collection of: The White House
Americans began to draw themselves, and their leaders, as classical heroes, enlightened figures. They took great pains to identify themselves as European and civilized, the better to distance themselves from natives.
América, Stephan Kessler, 1650-1700, From the collection of: Pinacoteca de São Paulo
These natives are shown as idle and relaxed, as if they were not doing anything at all until the Europeans came. This leads itself to a dehumanized savage, while the Europeans become light bringers.
Penn's Treaty with the Indians, Edward Hicks, c. 1830-1840, From the collection of: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Again we see westerners bringing civilization and light (which is prevalent on the right side, where the Europeans come from) to the dark and uncivilized. Notice the houses and ships and goods the westerners bring. The savages are on the back, wondering and below a tree. Their side is the darkest, and they have nothing to offer.
Eventually the Americans began to romanticize the Natives, portraying them in a noble and intelligent light. Here this man is thoughtful and dressed in what looks like a mix of western and native garb.
Indians Spear Fishing, Albert Bierstadt, 1862, From the collection of: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
The romanticization (that is a word) sold well. Soon everyone began painting in this style, looking past cultural conflicts and real problems of war and death and focusing instead on beautiful and romantic depictions of Indian life.
Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru, Millais, John Everett (Sir), 1846 (painted) - 1846, From the collection of: The Victoria and Albert Museum
Here is a painting of Indians in a Neoclassical style, lending them even more to an increased dehumanization. While it is a painting of south america by an English painter, these themes can be found in American painters, and is a good look into Western thought concerning the natives. The nobles look truly noble, but even so, Pizarro is not a brute. It is interesting to see the man on the left with the key. Also, their is much more light (and Europeans) on the left, which seems to be a repeat of other themes of westerners bringing civilization to the noble savages. By abstracting the natives this way, they are both fascinating and unlike Europeans, making war and conquest slightly easier to bear, and a heck of a lot more profitable for the painters.
The Funerals of Inca Atahualpa, Luis Montero, 1867, From the collection of: MALI, Museo de Arte de Lima
This is a bit of a repeat of the other , but it is rather interesting, so I put it in, just because.
Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (mural study, U.S. Capitol), Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1861, From the collection of: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Really, their isn't much to say. This is a definitive painting of the ideal of "manifest destiny" or the idea that it was America's purpose to expand. Note the lack of natives, portraying only light and wilderness to the west. This is a complete justification and romanticization of American expansion, which was often at the expense of others.
A Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia, John Reekie (American, active 1860s), negative April 1865; print 1866, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
Here is a tragic photo of burial. It doesn't say why the men are dead, or what happened, but it is a bleak and desolate landscape. Their are more dead in the photo than alive.
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