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 John Mix Stanley  (1814 - 1872)

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Lived/Active: Michigan/Washington/California/Kansas      Known for: Indian life, landscape, portrait

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John Mix Stanley
from Auction House Records.
Blackfeet Card Players
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Canandaigua, New York, John Mix Stanley became one of the most significant artists of the American frontier but also one of the most tragic in that three separate fires essentially destroyed his lifetime's work.

He was raised in upstate New York where his father had a tavern that many Indians and other frontier types visited. At age 14, he became an orphan and apprenticed to a coach maker. But looking for better work, he moved to Detroit in 1834 and became a house and sign painter and subsequently trained with European educated James Bowman, who saw one of his signs and admired his work.

From 1836 to 1838, Stanley painted portraits in the Chicago area and in 1839, based at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, tried unsuccessfully to support himself as a painter of Indian portraits and genre. He returned East and studied in Philadelphia and by 1842, had a studio at Fort Gibson in present-day Oklahoma, and he painted Indians and frontiersman. In 1846, the work from this period was exhibited in Cincinnati.

During the next ten years, he traveled and sketched on the Santa Fe Trail, in California during the Mexican War, and the Indians of Oregon and the Northwest. He was the first non-Indian American artist to travel to Arizona, arriving in 1846 as the draughtsman for the exploratory expedition of General Stephen Watts Kearny whose mission was to help the United States secure California. Kit Carson was expedition guide. Stanley's duties were to depict the landscape through which they passed, and some of his subsequent studio paintings were the first panoramic western landscapes.

By 1847, he was painting Indian portraits in Oregon and in 1848-49, Polynesian portraits in Hawaii. In 1853, he was the official artist for the Stevens Expedition for the northern railway survey and did hundreds of sketches along the Red River from which he prepared a huge panorama of two hours of viewing of forty-two episodes of Western scenes. After his attachment to the Pacific Railroad Survey, Stanley traveled south to Fort Vancouver, from which he departed for San Francisco, eventually crossing the Isthmus of Panama and journeying back east.

By 1854, he had married and settled into his studio in Detroit, completing oil paintings from his sketches and preparing for chromolithography of his paintings.

From forty-three tribes, he had done Indian portraits during his extensive exhibitions in the East. In 1852, one-hundred fifty of these paintings were loaned to the fledgling Smithsonian Institution with the hope of selling it to the US government in return for his expenses and ten years of work. But Congress refused, and they remained in the Smithsonian where they were destroyed by fire in 1865. A second fire at P. T. Barnum's American Museum, housing additional work, wiped out more paintings, and after his death, a studio fire in Detroit destroyed most of his field sketches and later paintings.


Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Jim Ballinger, "Visitors to Arizona"
Peggy and Harold Samuels, "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West"
Peter Hassrick, "Drawn to Yellowstone"
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The artist in Hawaii:

John Mix Stanley arrived in Honolulu in August, 1848, and the oil portraits he created while there are "perhaps the finest done in Hawaii in the mid-nineteenth century". (p 91, Encounters With Paradise). He was well trained, and his ability to capture the likeness of his subjects, made him a bit of a local wonder. Shortly after his arrival, the Honolulu newspaper, "Polynesian", reported that the artist "took rooms opposite the residence of C.Brewer, Esq", and the article suggested that residents might wish to engage his services. (p 132, "Encounters in Paradise")

Stanley's studio soon caught the attention of the more affluent members of Honolulu society, who were attracted to his elegant and finished style. He remained in Honolulu for over a year, earning handsome fees for his portraits of merchants, ladies, and children. His most important commissions were life-size portraits of King Kamehameha III and Queen Kalama for which he was paid five-hundred dollars in 1849.

His portrait of Mrs. Benjamin Pitman (High Cheifess Kinoole-o-Liliha) (oil on canvas, 1849) is held at the Peabody Museum of Salem. It depicts a high chiefess of Hilo, on the island of Hawaii, whose father controlled vast lands there and who was a close friend of King Kamehameha I. The chiefess married Hilo merchant Benjamin Pitman, and their main residence was in the center of that city. They also spent time in Lahaina on Maui, and in Honolulu, where they had just completed construction of a new residence when she died at the early age of thirty. When she sat for her portrait by Stanley, Mrs. Pitman wore a black silk gown and gold brooch.

Another of Stanley's notable Hawaiian works is 'Hawaiian Girl With Dog' (1849, oil on canvas), which is held by the Bishop Museum of Honolulu. The subject is one of the wards of a young ladies' dancing academy whose proprietor, Stephen Reynolds, commissioned Stanley to paint portraits of some of his young charges.

The artist departed Honolulu on the ship Montreal in November 1849, carrying with him a collection of 150 paintings which he had painted in a variety of places, including New Mexico, California, and Oregon. His Indian pictures were deposited at the Smithsonian Insitution, but sadly almost all were destroyed in a fire there in 1865.

John Mix Stanley moved to Detroit around 1864, where he died in 1872.


Source:
David W. Forbes, "Encounters With Paradise"




This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born New York, 1814; Detroit, MI, 1872. Sketch artist. Painter. Moved to Detroit, MI in 1834 and, without any evidence of artistic training, made his living as an itinerant artist. Established a studio in Oklahoma in 1842 and painted the 1843 Indian gathering in Tahlequah, OK. Was in St. Louis in Spring 1846 and joined the Santa Fe-bound wagon train that crossed Kansas where he was known to have painted a portrait of Keokuk, the celebrated chief, as well as others from the Sauk and Fox tribes.
Source:
SOURCES:
Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Taft, Lorado. History of American Sculpture. New edition with supplemental chapter by Adeline Adams. New York: Macmillan Co, 1930.; Kansas Historical Quarterly (Feb. 1952)
This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, III:
John Mix Stanley
Born: Canandaiguia, New York 1814
Died: Detroit, Michigan 1872

Important Indian painter and survey artist

As a boy, Stanley became interested in Indians around his father’s tavern. He was orphaned in 1828 and apprenticed to a coachmaker. To find a better job, Stanley moved to Detroit in 1834 as a painter of houses and signs. In 1853 James Bowman, an accomplished portrait painter trained in Italy, admired a Stanley sign and took Stanley as a pupil. From 1836 to 1838, Stanley painted portraits around Chicago. In 1839 at Fort Snelling, Minnesota he began to devote himself to Indian portraits and scenes but could not support himself. In three years of portrait painting and taking daguerreotype likenesses in the East, he saved enough to return West. In 1842 Stanley set up a studio in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, painting frontiersmen and Indians. Until 1845, Stanley lived in Indian country, painting a grand Indian council at Tahlequah in 1843 and a second council of prairie Indians. By 1846, the Stanley Indian paintings were on display in Cincinnati.

Stanley left the same year to join a wagon train for Santa Fe where he became artist of the Kearny military expedition to aid in the conquest of California. The guide was Kit Carson. Kearny’s official report contained lithographs from Stanley sketches. Stanley was painting Indian portraits in Oregon in 1847, and Polynesian portraits in Hawaii in 1848-49. In 1850-51, Stanley displayed his Indian Gallery in Eastern cities, and in 1852 put his collection of 150 paintings on display at the Smithsonian in order to offer it to the Government for $19,200 in return for his 10 years’ work and $12,000 in expenses. Congress refused, and in 1865 the collection was destroyed by fire. Other Indian paintings by Stanley were destroyed by fire at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York.

In 1853, Stanley had become official artist for the Stevens expedition for the northern railway survey, making scores of sketches of bison, Red River white hunters, councils, and views. Stanley was dispatched to Washington with the preliminary survey report, and by 1854 he had used his field sketches to prepare a huge panorama of 42 episodes of Western scenes that required two hours for viewing. Like most of Stanley’s original work, the panorama has disappeared. Stanley married in 1854. The remainder of his life was spent as a studio artist, including Indian subjects, and in arranging for chromolithography of his paintings.

Resource: SAMUELS’ Encyclopedia of ARTISTS of THE AMERICAN WEST,
Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing


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John Stanley is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Painted in Latin America
Artists who painted Hawaii
Western Painters



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