Attributed to Charles Bird King (District of Columbia 1785-1862) Captain John Smith negotiating with and seeking to persuade Indian Chief Powhatan not to take his life, after having been captured by Powhatan's tribe in 1607. This painting portrays the encounter of Captain John Smith with Chief Powhatan in 1607, after his capture by Pocahantas' tribe, but before Pocahontas took the courageous act that actually saved Captain Smith's life. This painting depicts Captain John Smith of the early 17th Century English settlement of the Virginia colony, at Jamestown, based on his armor, garb and certain facial images of him, e.g., the engraving by Crispin de Passe, that show the same essential facial anatomy and Smith's beard, as depicted in this painting. This painting depicts Smith in December 1607, while seeking food along the Chickahominy River, after his capture by the Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy and being taken to meet the Indian Chief, Powhatan. As depicted in the painting, Captain Smith is talking to and negotiating with Powhatan (seated in front of the Smith figure), seeking to have Powhatan spare his life. Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas is not visible in the painting, thus, this scene antedates the famed story, as told by Smith, that his life was saved by Pocahontas, who according to Smith, threw herself across his body “at the minute of my execution, she hazarded the beating out of her own brains to save mine; and not only that, but so prevailed with her father, that I was safely conducted to Jamestown.” See Wikipedia biography of Captain Smith. Oil on canvas. 25” x 30” Estimate: $30,000-??
Provenance: McLees Gallery, Haverford, Pennsylvania
Note 1) The following biographical materials are taken from the Wikipedia website:
“Charles Bird King was born in Newport, Rhode Island as the only child of Deborah Bird and American Revolutionary veteran Captain Zebulon King. The family traveled west, but when King was four years old, his father was killed and scalped by Native Americans near Marietta, Ohio. His mother took her son to return to Newport, where they lived with her mother.
Detail of a self-portrait aged 30, 1815
When King was fifteen, he went to New York to study under the portrait painter Edward Savage. At age twenty he moved to London to study under the famous painter Benjamin West at the esteemed Royal Academy. King returned to the U.S. due to the War of 1812 after a seven-year stay in London, and spent time working in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Richmond.
He eventually settled in Washington, due to the economic appeal of the burgeoning city. In the nation’s new capital, the artist earned a solid reputation as a portraitist among politicians, and earned enough to maintain his own studio and gallery. King’s economic success in the art world, particularly in the field of portraiture, can be attributed to his ability to socialize with the wealthy celebrities, and relate to the well-educated politicians of the time: “His industry and simple habits enabled him to acquire a handsome competence, and his amiable and exemplary character won him many friends”. These patrons included John Quincy Adams, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, James Monroe, and Daniel Webster. King’s popularity and steady stream of work left him with little reason or need to leave Washington. Despite his wealth and societal standing, the artist never married, and lived in Washington until his death on March 18, 1862.
The Poor Artist's Cupboard, ca. 1815
Though King’s legacy lies in his portraiture, throughout his career he also demonstrated a great technical skill in still life, genre, and literary paintings. Scholars have thought he would have preferred to focus on these styles throughout his career, but he needed to earn a living, and the only money to be made within the art market of the United States in the early part of the 19th century was in painting portraits. His inclination towards genre and still life paintings can be traced back to his seven-year stay in London. The 16th and 17th-century style attributed to masters in Northern Europe, especially that of the Dutch and Flemish, was quite popular in the upper echelons of the art culture. While attending the Royal Academy, King was swayed towards the Dutch styles by the demand such works commanded, and also was able to see the works and learn from them. It is likely that through his schooling, he was able to study the British royal collection, as “Prince of Wales, and Regent, George IV collected Dutch art voraciously…” and the prints were the favored style at the time by other members of European royalty.
King took more than stylistic cues from these examples, as he also employed some of the techniques which he saw. As Nicholas Clark wrote in 1982, King “sometimes relied upon Dutch prints for formal solutions”, as the prints provided a source of valued composition. As King’s formal education included seeing revered art from the Netherlands and surrounding regions, and many of his paintings include features that indicate influence of Dutch art, the artist may be seen to have derived his favor for genre and still life paintings from this style. As noted above, King incorporated the techniques of Dutch painting into his portraits, though he recognized that the United States was not yet as familiar the references to the style as it would be in the sphere of “post-Civil War materialism…“.
Portrait of Senator William Hunter of Rhode Island, 1824
Beyond his specific connection to Dutch painting, King is known to have been especially committed to staying within the confines of the traditional style of painting which he learned in his youth: “it is apparent that the artist would adapt, time and again, traditional European mannerisms to his new and native subject matter”.
While King completed a number of paintings that invoked Dutch painting technique, he is better known as an important figure in the 19th-century United States art world for his numerous portraits of Native Americans, commissioned by the federal government. He was also commissioned by the government for portraits of celebrated war heroes, and privately by the political elite, all to portray important men before the time of photography. Despite his popularity at the time, King is often overlooked in the broad scope of art history when placed amidst the talent of his contemporaries. His relative obscurity may be due in part to his lack of innovation in his work. It is also due to the loss of most of his numerous Indian portraits to a fire in the Smithsonian; his work simply disappeared, so he was overlooked in succeeding generations.
Charles Bird King, Young Omahaw, War Eagle, Little Missouri, and Pawnees, 1821, now in the Smithsonian Institution.
The Smithsonian art historian Herman J. Viola notes in the preface to The Indian Legacy of Charles Bird King that he compiled the book was to acknowledge the importance of King, as well as his Native American subjects, as part of the creation of a federal collection of Indian portraits. The government, private collectors, and museums hold portraits by a number of talented United States’ painters, including James Otto Lewis and George Cooke. King’s work makes up a bulk of the Indian portrait collection, with more than 143 paintings done from 1822 to 1842.
Thomas McKenney, who served as the United States superintendent of Indian trade in Georgetown and later as the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, initiated the government's commissioning of the portraits. Like many others, at the time he believed that the indigenous people were nearing extinction, and he was seeking ways to preserve their history and culture. He first tried to collect artifacts from various tribes, then thought of having portraits painted for the government. About this time, he met King, whose talent he appreciated. “The arrival of Charles Bird King on the Washington scene inspired the imaginative McKenney to add portraits to his archives.” King painted the subjects in his own studio, as McKenney easily obtained the consent for the portraits from Native American leaders coming to Washington to do business with the US through his new department. King’s 20-year role in painting works for the collection was profitable for the artist. He charged at least $20 for a bust, and $27 for a full-figure portrait, allowing him to collect an estimated $3,500 from the government.
The portraits gained widespread publicity beyond Washington during this period as McKenney broadened his project by publishing a book on Native Americans. In 1829 he began what would become many years' worth of work on the three-volume work, History of the Indian Tribes of North America. The project featured the many portraits of Native Americans, mostly King’s, in lithograph form, accompanied by an essay by the author James Hall.
After the administration changed and McKenney left the BIA, the agency donated the Native American portrait collection to the National Institute, but shoddy care and displays kept it from the public eye. When the National Institute deteriorated, it gave its work in 1858 to the Smithsonian Institution. King's portraits were displayed among similar paintings by the New York artist John Mix Stanley, in a gallery containing a total of 291 paintings of Native American portraits and scenes. On January 24, 1865 a fire destroyed the paintings in this gallery, though a few of King’s were saved before the flames spread. Representations of many of the lost paintings have been found in McKenney’s lithograph collection that supported the book (Emphasis added)."
Note 2) The attribution of the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan to Charles Bird King is based on the following considerations and processes. As the above biographical data makes crystal clear, King was heavily involved in painting more than 143 Indian portraits/subject matter from 1822 to 1842, twenty years. It is not unreasonable to suggest that after King ceased painting Indian portraits/subject matter in 1842, that he might very well have decided to explore the possibility of executing an American history painting involving and depicting Indians. In this regard, King was the supreme and most famous portrait artist in Washington, D.C. at this time. In addition, he had attained a high level of praise for his complex compositions of the “Poor Artist’s Cupboard” and “The Itinerant Artist,” which strongly supports the proposition that King could have planned and executed the complex composition manifested in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan.
“Poor Artists Cupboard”
“The Itinerant Artist”
King’s portrait of Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, c. 1821-1825 buttresses the conclusion that King could have readily managed the complex composition in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan and paint a very finished, shiny, smooth paint surface, that is also manifested in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, especially in the skin of the Indians.
Portrait of Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, c. 1821-1825
As was stated in Wikipedia, “King’s economic success in the art world, particularly in the field of portraiture, can be attributed to his ability to socialize with the wealthy celebrities, and relate to the well-educated politicians of the time: His industry and simple habits enabled him to acquire a handsome competence, and his amiable and exemplary character won him many friends" These patrons included John Quincy Adams, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, James Monroe, and Daniel Webster.” King was most certainly aware of the process by which Congress had been granting commissions to execute American history paintings for the U.S. Capital since the 1820’s, and was still actively granting commissions in the 1830’s and 1840’s for this purpose, after King had ceased his practice of painting Indian portraits, pursuant to a U.S. Government commissions, in 1842. In addition, he had also been commissioned in the past by the Government “for portraits of celebrated war heroes, and privately by the political elite, all to portray important men before the time of photography.” Given the foregoing, it is somewhat surprising that King never was given a commission by the Government for a portrait or a history painting to hang in the U.S. Capital.
Mr. Fastov had always believed that when he was able to locate an artist with the artistic skills and techniques that manifested the capacity to paint and delineate the very distinctive crisp, sharp angular faces and musculature in a very smooth and silky manner and to use, if he chooses to, the shiny, vibrant honey/oranges/tan skin coloring of the Indians in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, he would have found the artist who painted the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. These characteristics were, in fact, the telltale hallmarks or footprints of the artist who painted this auction painting. King’s portraits of Indians make clear that King was very much inclined to and did, in fact, manifest such characteristics in his paintings of Indian portraits, as is manifested by the following illustrations of such portraits.
Plains Indian Chiefs
Young Omahaw, War Eagle, Little Missouri, and Pawnees, 1821
No Heart (Nan-che-ning-ga)
Black Hawk, 1821
Pawnee Chief Sharitarish done in 1822.
Tenskwatawa (The Prophet) 1768–1837
Henry Inman (1801–1846), after Charles Bird King
Wakechai Crouching Eagle a Sauk chief, print after King
Pawnee Chief, print after King
"Moanahonga, or Great Walker," print after King
Shar-I-Tar-Ish, print after King
To test and hopefully buttress his attribution to King, as the author of the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, Mr. Fastov also researched George Catlin (1796-1872) and Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) and Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874), who, in addition to King, were the most famous painters of Indians and Indian subject matter in the early through mid-19th century, Mr. Fastov conducted thorough research on these other artist’s style and technique. Most simply stated, these artists, generally speaking, do not depict crisp, sharp angular faces of Indians and the Indians’ massive, flexible musculature in a very smooth and silky manner, even though they will sometimes paint bemuscled Indians. They also do not manifest a predilection for using a vibrant, almost shiny, honey/oranges/tan coloring of the skin of the Indians, as it appears in the auction painting. These characteristics appear in the above illustrations of King’s Indian art. All of these artists paint tree leaves in differing manners, but all of them depict tree leaves in a manner that is inconsistent with the depiction of leaves in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. The foregoing precludes a finding that any of them could have painted the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, and somewhat strengthens Mr. Fastov’s attribution to King. See a few samples of their works of art:
Regarding Catlin, see, e.g.:
Little Bear Hunkpapa Brave
Sioux War Council-1848
Catlin’s tree leaves are also different from those depicted in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan:
Regarding Bodmer, he did a lot of landscapes, which make manifest that his style and technique of painting tree leaves is wholly inconsistent with the tree leaves in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. See, e.g.:
Deer In A Forest
His Indians in his paintings also do not manifest the characteristics of the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. See, e.g.:
Horse Racing of the Sioux, 1832-1834, print
Psihdja Sahpa, Yanktonian Indian
Regarding, Eastman, see Eastman’s 9 paintings of Indians in the U.S. House of Representatives Office Buildings at pp. 160-168 of the Compilation of Works of Art and Other Objects in the U.S. Capital by the Architect of the Capital and, e.g.:
Worship of the Sun, Dakota Dancers, 1852
Striking the Post, 1852
Eastman’s tree leaves are also different from those depicted in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan:
The Indian Council
Regarding Miller, see, e.g.:
Crows Trying To Provoke An Attack
Sioux Indian at a grave.
Miller’s tree leaves are also different from those depicted in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. See e.g.:
Grizzly Bear Hunt
Note 3) The reasons for Mr. Fastov’s attribution of the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan to King and the detailed, thorough processes by which he reached this conclusion are set forth herein. When Mr. Fastov bought this painting approximately 25 years ago, he thought that it was probably painted by one of the American history painters, active around 1850. When he initiated his research process, he decided to scrutinize with care the American history painters’ paintings in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capital, as he knew that a number of these marvelous paintings in the Rotunda were commissioned by the Congress and/or completed c. 1840-1850, which was consistent with Mr. Fastov’s belief that the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan was executed c. 1850. Mr. Fastov also knew that a number of the artists who executed paintings for the U.S. Capital were also discussed in Grand Illusions: History Painting In America by Professor William H. Gerdts and Professor Mark Edward Thistlethwaite, a copy of which, he owned.
The “Surrender of Cornwallis” at Yorktown (completed 1820; installed 1826), “Surrender of General Burgoyne” at Saratoga (completed 1821; installed 1826), “General George Washington Resigning His Commission” in the Maryland State House in Annapolis (completed 1824; installed 1826), all by John Trumbull (1756-1843), all of which were executed well before 1850, the “Landing Of Columbus” (completed 1846; installed 1847) by John Vanderlyn (1775-1852), and the “Embarkation Of The Pilgrims” (completed 1843; installed 1843) by Robert W. Weir (1803-1889) very clearly did not manifest any of the techniques, style or characteristics of the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan.
With regard to the “Baptism of Pocahontas” (completed 1839; installed 1840) by John Gadsby Chapman (1808-1889) and Discovery Of The Mississippi By De Soto (completed 1853; installed 1855) by William H. Powell, Indian figures appear in each of these paintings. However, close scrutiny of the manner in which such Indians were depicted, made manifest they bore no resemblance to the style, techniques and characteristics of the Indians depicted in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, and the style and techniques in depicting other human figures in the rest of the painting was also inconsistent with the style and technique of the painting of Captain John Smith in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. The credit line for all of the illustrations of the following works of art in the U.S. Capital is the Architect of the Capitol.
The “Baptism of Pocahontas,” at Jamestown, Virginia, 1613 by John Gadsby Chapman. This painting “depicts the ceremony in which Pocahontas, daughter of the influential Algonkian chief Powhatan, was baptized and given the name Rebecca in an Anglican church. It took place in 1613 or 1614 in the colony at Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement on the North American continent. Pocahontas is thought to be the earliest native convert to Christianity in the English colonies; this ceremony and her subsequent marriage to John Rolfe helped to establish peaceful relations between the colonists and the Tidewater tribes.” Of course, the subject matter of this painting, Pocohontas, has clear ties to the subject matter of the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, as she was Powhatan’s daughter and saved Captain Smith’s life, when Powhatan was preparing to kill Smith. The Indians depicted in this Baptism painting obviously were members of Powhatan’s tribe, but do not have feathers in their hair, bearing any resemblance to the feathers of the Indians of Powhatan’s tribe in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. The male Indians depicted in this Baptism painting lack the crisp, sharp angular faces and significant musculature, that was painted in the very smooth and silky manner, and also lack the vibrant honey/oranges/tan skin coloring of the Indians in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan.
The “Discovery Of The Mississippi By De Soto” by William H. Powell. “Powell’s dramatic and brilliantly colored canvas was the last of the eight large historical paintings in the Rotunda commissioned by the Congress. It shows Spanish conquistador and explorer Hernando De Soto (1500–1542), riding a white horse and dressed in Renaissance finery, arriving at the Mississippi River at a point below Natchez on May 8, 1541. De Soto was the first European documented to have seen the river.” The Indians depicted in the right of this painting do not match the deftly and crisply delineated musculature or angular faces or skin coloration, that is found in the Indians depicted in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan.
A major difference between all of the above Capitol Rotunda paintings is that they are painted from a proscenium stage perspective, and there is virtually no human action in any of these paintings, while the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan is painted from a natural close-up view, putting the viewer almost in the scene itself, not a proscenium stage perspective and presentation, and there is, relatively speaking, a great deal of human action in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, that is absent in the Capitol Rotunda paintings.
In addition, the frescoed frieze of scenes from American History in the belt just below the 36 windows in the Rotunda was painted to give the illusion of a sculpted relief. Among the friezes executed by Constantino Brumidi (1805-1880) was “Captain Smith And Pocahontas,” which, again, bears a very strong subject matter tie to the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. Brumidi prepared a sketch for the overall frieze in 1859, but he was not authorized to begin work until 1877. Although Brumidi depicts bemuscled Indians very effectively in “Captain Smith And Pocahontas,” the Indian figures bear no resemblance to the lithe, fluidly athletic, cat/tiger-like Indians and other characteristics thereof in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan.
“Captain Smith And Pocahontas” by Constantino Brumidi. Pocahontas saves Captain John Smith, one of the founders of Jamestown, Virginia, from being clubbed to death. Her father, Chief Powhatan, is seated at the left. This scene is the first showing English settlement. (1607)
Other paintings by Brumidi, elsewhere in the Capital, including those in the U.S. Senate wing, further rule him out as the author of the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan.
Compilation of Works of Art and Other Objects in the U.S. Capital by the Architect of the Capital contains illustrations of other works of art, most of which are totally irrelevant to the issue of ascertaining the name of the artist, who painted the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. However, a number of paintings of Indians by Seth Eastman (1808-1875) are relevant in that Eastman, along with Charles Bird King (1785-1862), George Catlin (1796-1872), Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) and Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874), were the most famous painters of Indians and Indian subject matter in the early through mid-19th century. Even a quick scan of Eastman’s 9 paintings of Indians in the U.S. House of Representatives Office Buildings at pp. 160-168 makes it crystal clear that Eastman’s style and technique of painting Indians has nothing to do with the paintings of Indians in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. Eastman’s paintings of forts in the U.S. at pp. 143-159 are totally irrelevant. 12 other American history paintings in the U.S. Senate Wing of the Capital, at pp. 126-142, by Francis Bicknell Carpenter (1830-1900), William H. Powell, Cornelia Adele Fassett (1831-1898), Regis Gignoux (1816-1882), Augustus G. Heaton (1844-1931), Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868) and Howard Chandler Christy (1872-1952) are all totally irrelevant to the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, in terms of style and technique, and most of the artists were born too late to have executed this c. 1850 painting. In the cases of James Walker (1818-1889) and John Blake White (1789-1851), who painted 2 of these 12 paintings, they lacked the adequate level of artistic skills to have executed the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. Given the tie between Pocahontas and Captain John Smith, the 17th century portrait of Pocahontas located in a U.S. Senate office, artist unknown, is well done and very arresting.
Mr. Fastov also reread Grand Illusions: History Painting In America and thought that it was theoretically possible that some of the American history painters, active c. 1850, discussed in this book, in addition to John Blake White, John Gadsby Chapman, William Henry Powell and Robert W. Weir, like William D. Washington (1833-1870), Dennis Malone Carter (1827-1881), William W. Walcutt (1819-1882), Constant Mayer (1832-1911), Peter Rothermel (1817-1895) and Junius Brutus Stearns (1810-1885) might have been capable of executing the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. He did further research on White, Chapman, Powell and Weir and conducted new research concerning the other artists.
Mr. Fastov concluded with no mental reservation whatsoever, that all of these artists, with the possible exception of Rothermel, could not have executed the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, because of a lack of level of sufficient artistic skill to paint the complex composition and to depict the Indians with the exceptional high quality, very smooth brushwork and sophisticated, crisp delineation of the angular facial features and musculature of the Indians depicted in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. Some of the artists appeared to have the basic level of artistic skill, requisite to attempt to painting the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, but from a stylistic and technique standpoint, they all totally differed in various ways from that which was evident in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. As to Rothermel, Mr. Fastov thought that Rothermel certainly had the skill to render a complex composition, such as the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan; and could apply paint in a sufficiently smooth manner and to delineate the human figure with sufficient precision to warrant detailed research and consideration as the possible artist, who painted the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. However, Mr. Fastov was never able to locate a relevant Rothermel depiction of an Indian or a Caucasian without clothes to ascertain if Rothermel could paint the Indian musculature in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, and had reservations about Rothermel based on his primarily proscenium stage perspectives and his delineation of the human figure generally.
Nonetheless, he raised the possibility of an attribution to Rothermel with Professor William Gerdts and Professor Mark Thistlethwaite, even though Mr. Fastov had such reservations with such an attribution, and advised both Gerdts and Thistlethwaite, that he had reservations in advance. Professor Gerdts referred Mr. Fastov to Professor Thistlethwaite, who is an expert on Rothermel. Thistlethwaite had similar reservations to Mr. Fastov and declined to support Mr. Fastov’s attribution to Rothermel.
Thus, Mr. Fastov, having eliminated all of the most relevant American history artists active c. 1850 from his list of possible “suspects,” he decided to explore the possibility of very fine American portrait painters, active c. 1850, who ostensibly had the sophisticated skill and precision in their depictions and brushwork and fluidity of brushwork, with, perhaps, some capacity and inclination to plan and execute a complex historical composition, such as the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, even if they were not known to or had a reputation, as having engaged in American history painting or the painting of Indian subject matter or portraits.
Because Mr. Fastov had purchased the painting on the Philadelphia mainline in Haverford, Pennsylvania and the dealer had advised Mr. Fastov that the painting came from a Philadelphia area home, he decided to explore and research the possibility of Rembrandt Peale having executed the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan. He concluded that while Peale would have possessed the requisite level of skill and sophistication to have painted the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, none of his paintings, primarily portraits, manifested any keen interest in an Indian subject matter or the requisite capacity to delineate the Indians with the kind of crisp, sharp angular facial characteristics and musculature present in the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan.
Having been unable to find a portrait artist who had been involved with painting Indian subject matter or portraits, he decided to focus on portrait painters, who had, in fact, or were known to have executed Indian portraits or subject matter. The “light bulb” went on, when Mr. Fastov remembered the portrait by Charles Bird King, Young Omahaw, War Eagle, Little Missouri, and Pawnees, 1821 (above in Note 1 and in Note 2) and refreshed his recollection of this portrait, which led to the above attribution of the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan to Charles Bird King.
Note 4) The foregoing details concerning Mr. Fastov’s above attribution and the process that led him to attribute the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan to King; the above biographical considerations and the following auction records regarding King sales of Indian portraits warrant the conclusion that the presale estimate of $30,000-$????? is more than reasonable and is justifiable. The amount of the uncertain high estimate of ????? is a function of the extent to which two sophisticated art collectors accept, rely upon and bid on the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, based on Mr. Fastov’s attribution to King. Most certainly, the auction records pertaining to the sales of King’s rare extant portraits of Indians make clear the low estimate of $30,000 is absurdly low, and would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but for the fact that the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan lacks a King signature. King apparently failed to sign a number of his paintings. With the exception of King’s full length portrait of Nesouaquoit, a Fox Chief (35.50 x 29.50), the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan is much larger (25” x 30”), than the two other relatively small King portraits of Indian portraits (18" x 14.50" and 17.50" x 13.20") and depicts a significant passage of one of the earliest events, in 1607, of America’s history.
During his lengthy career in Washington, D.C., King spent 20 years, 1822-1842 on a commission to paint members of a five-tribe Indian delegation, which came to the city in 1821. The results became the basis of the National Indian Portrait Gallery. As noted above, most of the originals were burned in a catastrophic fire of 1865, along with the Indian portraits of John Mix Stanley, but King had painted some replicas and lithographic copies remain. Thus, in part, because of the scarcity; the realistic depiction of his Indian subjects in King’s oil portraits of American Indians, and the quality of King's portraiture, some of such Indian oil portraits fetch several hundreds of thousands of dollar at auctions. The King portrait of Ottoe Half Chief, Husband of Eagle of Delight (18 in. x 14 ½ in.) brought a record of $1,352,000 on 12/1/2004 at Sotheby’s NY as lot 137. See the auction records of this sale and of two other American Indian portraits that fetched $457,000 on 9/12/2007 and $385,000 on 5/24/1990 below. The second lot, John Ridge, Cherokee Chief, which brought $457,000, which was painted on wood panel, had two full length vertical splits, one of which went through Ridge's face and body and the other ran through his body, and suffered from incredibly crude inpainting and other surface damage, as well. In contrast, the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan has experienced relatively minor restoration. The subjects of these King American Indian portraits are, at best, equivalent in American historical significance to the auction painting of Captain John Smith and Powhatan, which was executed by a major American portraitist of Indians, Charles Bird King, who was the leading portrait painter in Washington, D.C. for more than the first ½ of the 19th century.