Mounted Indians Carrying Spears [Rosa Bonheur]

Louisa Dewey

Contributor

This depiction of “Mounted Indians” is highly questionable... but painter Rosa Bonheur is a total badass.

This painting depicts Rocky Bear and Red Shirt, two Lakota Indians that were a part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. French painter Rosa Bonheur had never set foot in the United States-- the “show” came to her in Paris at the 1889 World’s Fair (because indigenous people totally exist for the amusement of others!!). To her credit, Bonheur was a stickler for detail-- she even had a sample of prairie grass sent to her from the US so that she could be as accurate as possible in her painting.

Unfortunately, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was far from an accurate depiction of daily life for native people. Although Buffalo Bill himself encouraged the performers to retain their language and rituals, the overarching stereotype of the war-bonneted warrior did no small harm to their cause. Across the United States and around the world, these wild west shows served as a theatrical justification for American conquest as American Indians (and sometimes white people with red face paint) acted out their perpetual defeat in numerous staged battles.

Now that we’ve established how awful the concept of turning a mass genocide into a family-friendly fetishization of the American west is, we can give Bonheur a bit of slack. She is widely regarded to have been the most famous female painter of the nineteenth century and was overall a complete badass. She was expelled from several primary schools for sticking it to the man, apprenticed to a painter at the age of twelve, and was well known for wearing men’s clothing and smoking cigarettes. Bonheur represented the “New Woman” of the 19th century: sexually liberated, totally cool, and a highly successful artist. Cultural insensitivity of the times aside, you can’t get much better than that.

 

Mounted Indians Carrying Spears [Rosa Bonheur] is mentioned on Sartle Blog -