Charles Bird King (1785-1862)

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Young Omahaw War Eagle 1821

Young Omahaw War Eagle 1821

Charles Bird King was a talented early American portrait painter known for his depiction of Native Americans. In particular, King painted portraits of the Native American chiefs and dignitaries that came to Washington to speak with government officials.

Black Hawk

Black Hawk

Shaumonekusse

Shaumonekusse

Crouching Eagle

Crouching Eagle

Born in Newport, Rhode Island, King received some of his earliest artistic training in London under Allston and Leslie. King continued to live in England for several years (1806-1812) studying and working. While in London, he also studied at the Royal Academy under Benjamin West and Edward Savage. It is said that his earliest pieces, which included still life compositions and certainly included landscapes, were not as successful as his portraits.

Poor Artists Cupboard

Poor Artists Cupboard

Upon his return to the United States in 1812, he resided in Pennsylvania with fellow artist Thomas Sully. During this time he exhibited his work with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine art for a number of years. He moved to Baltimore in 1815 and was called back to Rhode Island due to a death in the family.

Black Hawk w/red headdress

Black Hawk w/red headdress

A Creek Chief

A Creek Chief

Chief Tokacon

Chief Tokacon

King set up shop in Washington D. C. where he stayed from 1822 until his death in 1862. For forty years he worked primarily in Washington D.C. painting portraits. Besides painting Native American dignitaries, he also was commissioned to create portraits of American government officials, wealthy families and prominent figures of the day. Some art historians name King as the most sought after portraitist in Washington D.C. during his lifetime.

John Ross

John Ross

William Harris Crawford

William Harris Crawford

David Vann

David Vann

Mrs. John Mason Jr. and Son

Mrs. John Mason Jr. and Son

King was also a generous patron of the Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island and was said to have donated money, books, engravings and over two hundred of his paintings to the library.

Abraham Redwood

Abraham Redwood

The Itinerant Artist 1830

The Itinerant Artist 1830

A Chippeway Widow

A Chippeway Widow

In total, it is said that King painted nearly 150 paintings of Native Americans, a project which took him 16 years to complete. These paintings were exhibited at the Nation Indian Portrait Gallery, established in 1817. It is said by some art historians that King was most likely the first portrait artist to portray tribal leaders from the west. These paintings were later transferred to the Smithsonian where it is thought that they were all destroyed in a fire in 1865. Copies of each had been made by painter Henry Inman, but could some of the originals have survived?

Red Jacket

Red Jacket

Major Ridge

Major Ridge

Pushmataha

Pushmataha

Chitee Yoholo, A Seminole Chief

Chitee Yoholo, A Seminole Chief

A Na Cam E Gish Ca, A Chippeway Chief

A Na Cam E Gish Ca, A Chippeway Chief

Still wondering about an early American portrait or Native American portrait hanging in your home? Contact us…it could be by Charles Bird King.