Indian Portraits: Indiens Royale

Indian Portraits
Les Indiens Royale

Throughout my career, I have painted a variety of subjects in different styles, both abstract and realistic. However, there have been two focal points which have remained constant in my oeuvre: the culture and history of 18th century France and secondly the same of 19th century American Indian, of whom, I have done many paintings. Both of these periods reflect great historical contrasts involving tragedy. The French Revolution set into motion the demise of the old regime and beginning of a new society. The 19th century saw a tragic dispersal and decline of the American plains Indians. I have had a lifelong obsession with mirrors in 18th century frames, the aged patinated mercury glass and its reflections. One sees a reflection of an image that is fleeting — ephemeral in its reflection and inconsistent when being viewed. Initially I used the frame mirrors as a canvas in order to present an actual or imaginary image, but the result tended to be ornamental, without the permanence that I desired. Then I came to realize that it was the frame that was really the focal point of my interest. A beautifully carved and gilded French frame captured the nobility of a golden age and I realized that that as a surround for the portrait of a noble and tragic American Indian, the juxtaposition of imagery of the two, would eliminate the reflective decorative quality and capture a single image like a lantern slide or a single from of celluloid film slip. This was very exciting. The 18th century French gilded frame with its weather patina and delicate carving contrasts vividly with the colorful bravura of Indian beadwork, costume and feathers pictured in the portrait. In this context the viewer is presented with an improbable, yet possible, mysterious juxtaposition of style and subjects. While removing a group of American Indians from their historical context is though provoking, the image is further enhance by the presence of inscriptions referring to places Indians visited in order to achieve recognition for their people.
—Ira Yeager

Excerpt from Les Indiens Royale — Exhibition Catalogue: Preface; 2010