Charles Deas

Charles Deas (December 22, 1818 – March 23, 1867) was an American painter noted for his oil paintings of Native Americans and fur trappers of the mid-19th century

Charles Deas was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania He attempted, and failed, to obtain an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York As a young man, he studied under John Sanderson in Philadelphia, and subsequently embarked upon a career as a painter The National Academy of Design in New York soon recognized his work, electing him as an associate member in 1839

Known as a painter of dramatic and romantic western scenes, he was born in Philadelphia to a family of career military people including his grandfather, Ralph Izard, a Revolutionary War hero It was expected that Charles would be a military man, but he grew to prefer painting trips in the Hudson River Valley to sitting in classes at West Point Academy In the mid-1830s, he studied briefly at the National Academy of Design, earning a reputation for sporting and domestic genre scenes He first exhibited at the Academy in 1838 and became an elected Associate in 1839

By 1840, he had decided to emulate one of his influences, George Catlin, and travel westward in the United States It was during travels through the Wisconsin Territory that he became a noted painter of trappers and American Indians By 1841, Deas decided to establish his base in St Louis, Missouri During this time, Deas would typically spend “a few months among the Indian tribes, familiarizing himself with their manners and customs”

The artist’s works are described as expressing “psychological tension, perceived danger, alarm, and flight,” epitomized by his painting Death Struggle which depicts an Indian and trapper locked in combat while falling to their deaths from a cliff

Deas was most famous while he was still alive One critic, in 1947, stated that the painter was considered to have “enjoyed more of a reputation during his own lifetime” than currently Between 1841 and 1848, Deas’ regularly exhibited his works in St Louis at the “Mechanics Fairs” He also shipped many of his works, for sale, to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as well as to New York’s American Art Union Deas returned to New York in 1848 and expressed a desire to open a gallery of Indian art Before he could do this he was declared legally insane

On May 23, 1848, Deas was committed to New York’s Bloomingdale Asylum (now occupied by Columbia University) He was institutionalized for the rest of his life During this period, his paintings were described as being particularly intense “One of his wild pictures, representing a black sea, over which a figure hung, suspended from a ring, while from the waves a monster was springing, was so horrible, that a sensitive artist fainted at the sight” Deas died of “apoplexy” (possible stroke) in Bloomingdale Asylum on March 23, 1867

Deas’ maternal grandfather was the 18th century American politician Ralph Izard of South Carolina

Works:
Robert Watts, Jr (1838), oil on canvas, St Louis Mercantile Library
Walking the Chalk (1838), oil on canvas, Houston Museum of Fine Arts
Turkey Shooting (1838), oil on canvas, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Self Portrait (1840), graphite on buff wove paper, National Academy
Wa-kon-cha-hi-re-ga (1840), oil on canvas, St Louis Mercantile Library
Winnebago with Peace Medal and Red Pipestone (1840), oil on canvas, St Louis Mercantile Library
Winnebago with Bear-Claw Necklace (1840), oil on canvas, St Louis Mercantile Library
Winnebago with Bear-Claw Necklace and Gun-Stock Club (1840), oil on canvas, St Louis Mercantile Library
Winnebagos Playing Checkers (1842), private collection
Devil and Tom Walker, (1843), oil on canvas, private collection
Long Jakes (1844), oil on canvas, Denver Art Museum
Dragoons Crossing River (1844), private collection
The Death Struggle (1845), oil on canvas, Shelburne Museum
A Group of Sioux, (1845), oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum
The Trapper and His Family, (1845), Boston Museum of Fine Arts
The Voyageurs, (1846), oil on canvas, Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Prairie Fire, (1847), oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum
Indian Warrior on the Edge of a Precipice (1847)