Saturday, January 8, 2011

Saturday Salon: A Favorite Painting

Notes of an obvious non-academic:

I'm departing a bit from the usual, I suppose, by choosing an N.C. Wyeth painting used for the cover of the 1919 edition of James Fenimore Cooper's LAST OF THE MOHICANS. But I am a huge fan of Wyeth's work and lately I've been viewing even more of his paintings and reading more about the Wyeths. See my post of the book WONDROUS STRANGE which features the Wyeth family's brilliant work but also the work of the great and wonderful Howard Pyle.

I love the strength and knowledge depicted in this painting. I love the use of outline and color and the mythical implication - the figure surrounded by clouds. To my mind, this is an image startling in its intensity. Note the dramatic setting, the mountainous region of upstate New York. Note the beautiful tattoos, the arm cuff, the hatchet, the knife in a beaded scabbard, the beauty of the figure's upper body, the strong brow, the feather angled just so. The bow and arrow ready for action.

This is a work of masculine power and envy. Yes, it is a romantic interpretation, but I see nothing wrong in that, I truly don't. Fenimore Cooper romanticized the world he wrote about, Wyeth visualizes the romance in this painting. It is a world created larger and brighter than its reality.

And by the way, if you haven't read THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, it's never too late. I read it when I was already an adult and enjoyed it very much. You may have seen the wonderful film starring Daniel Day Lewis which is amazing in its own right, but I'd recommend reading the book if you haven't already. It's gone out of favor in recent times, but since when has that ever stopped us?

To read more about the painting, please go here. And please click here to learn more about the artist, N.C. Wyeth.

Artist, N.C. Wyeth as a young man.


  1. I have a colleague writing about The Last of the Mohicans who has convinced me that it is much more culturally sensitive than it is normally given credit for. She believes that Cooper is doing more than just recycling the noble savage and depraved savage myths.

    There are two wonderful essays about the book, both by famous writers in their own right. Mark Twain mocks the book, D. H. Lawrence idolizes it. The essays tell us more about Twain and Lawrence than they do about Cooper but they stimulate the mind.

  2. Well, I knew going in what has always been said about the book, but I must admit I truly did enjoy it. It's been ages since I read it, but I still have good feelings about it. I thought Cooper was trying to do something fine with the book. He foresaw the decline of a vast empire in the rise of a new one.

    Twain hated Jane Austen, so I have trouble taking his literary criticism to heart. :)


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