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 Charles Deas  (1818 - 1867)

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Lived/Active: Missouri/New York      Known for: Indian and frontier genre painting

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Ad Code: 2
Charles Deas
from Auction House Records.
Winnebagos Playing Checkers
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
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.

In 1840, he traveled West, having seen an exhibition of Indian paintings of George Catlin. He also visited his brother who was a military officer at Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. He traveled all over the upper Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and throughout the Platte River region. He settled in St. Louis for nearly 10 years where he had considerable following as well as back East where he continued to send his paintings. They were regularly exhibited at the National Academy of Design, the Boston Athenaeum, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Many of his works were made into engravings, which also enhanced his reputation.

Sadly, his career was cut short by insanity in the 1850s, and he spent the last 16 years of his life in a mental institution. His last paintings were depictions of human sadness and despair.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, I:
Charles Deas
Born: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1818
Died: in an asylum probably in St. Louis 1867

Important early painter of Indian and frontier life on the Great Plains

Charles Deas, grandson of the Revolutionary War leader Ralph Izard, was exposed to art as a visitor at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art and in Sully's studio while receiving his general education from John Sanderson. He failed to gain appointment to West Point in 1936, when the Hudson River outdoor life attracted him more than life as a cadet. He then spent two years at the National Academy in New York City, exhibiting beginning 1838 "a variety of cabinet pictures drawn chiefly from familiar life." During a visit to Philadelphia in 1838, he was enthralled by an exhibition of Catlin's Indian paintings: "To visit the scenes of Nature's own children, to share the repast of the hunter and taste the wild excitement of frontier life."

In 1840, Deas left the East to visit his brother at Fort Crawford, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, only 10 years after Seth Eastman, at the same time as Stanley, and 10 to 20 years before the better-known Western artists. He collected sketches of Indians and frontier scenery. "In passing from lodge to lodge, the most extraordinary incidents presented themselves, and in the stillness of the moonlit nights, the echoes of the Indian lover's flute blent with the battle-chant or the maiden's shrill song."

In the winter of 1841 he visited Fort Winnebago, Fort Snelling, St. Anthony's Falls, and the Sioux. He had a permanent studio in St. Louis as his headquarters. In 1844, when he traveled to the Pawness, he was nicknamed "Rocky Mountain" because he dressed "like a fur hunter" and "he could go where he pleased.  Mr. Deas seemed to possess the whole secret of wining the good graces of the Indians.  Whenever he entered a lodge it was with a grand flourish so that the whole lodge would burst out into a roar of laughter."

Eighteen of Deas's frontier works were exhibited at the National Academy in New York City.  Others were shown at the American Art-Union.  He returned to New York City in 1847, only to suffer a mental breakdown that affected his painting. Despite his huge successes that started from the time he was 20, only a very few canvases have survived.

Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing

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Charles Deas is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Western Painters

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