Thomas Nygard Gallery - 19th and 20th Century American Art



Henry H.

Henry saw his first Indians, cowboys and horses under a circus tent - this inspired him to explore the western frontiers to see such things in person.  He had an adventurous nature, which his appearance would not suggest.  He was plump, wore rimless glasses and sported a walrus moustache.  So adventurous, in fact, that several times he ran away to join the circus.


At the age of sixteen he made his way to Paris where Rosa Bonheur befriended him.  Between 1853 and 1855 he studied animal painting under her expert guidance.

Upon his return to the United States, his fascination with the circus prompted him westward.  He earned a living, painting animals on the sides of wagons.


After having a portrait studio in Chicago for two years, he moved to Minnesota during the Sioux uprising with the intent of painting Indians President Abraham Lincoln had sentenced to death for the massacre of white settlers.  He became particularly involved with the Sioux tribe and learned their language. He constantly painted wherever he went, portraying Indian life, their interaction with white military civilization and Indian chiefs prominent at the time.  One of his better-known portraits was a portrait of Sioux Chief Red Cloud, who caused the U.S. Army much discomfort.  Buffalo Bill Cody referred to him as “the greatest painter of Indian portraiture of all times” (Harmsen “Western Americana”).


In the late 1880s, he began to paint Indian ceremonies and in the 1890s, visited Hopi pueblos in Arizona and painted the Snake Dance.


The Gilcrease Institute of Tulsa, Oklahoma has one of the most comprehensive collections of his Indian chief portraits, and other collections are in the Chicago Historical Society and the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

(1837 - 1918)

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