At Sotheby’s in London on July 9, Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of the Mohawk Chieftain Thayendanegea, known to the British and in English as Joseph Brant (1742-1807), sold for $7,051,842 (includes buyer’s premium) to an American private buyer.
Thayendanegea, a charismatic, well-educated English-speaking warrior, translator, diplomat, and chief of the Iroquois Nation, sided with the British during the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution. He was the best-known Native American in his generation, a real celebrity who lobbied hard with the British and Americans to secure his nation’s survival. Stuart depicted him in full Iroquois regalia with silver rings embroidered onto his clothing, a plumed headdress, and silver amulets on his upper arm and wrist, declaring his high rank and status. He wears a silver gorget, presented to him by George III for his service to Britain in the American Revolutionary War. Below it, he wears a cameo with a profile portrait of the king in a brass frame, further demonstrating his political allegiance.
The painting had been in the U.S. in the 1970s and again beginning in 2004 for a Gilbert Stuart exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it traveled to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. It was shown again at the Smithsonian in 2006 in American Origins 1600-1900. Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Carrie Rebora Barratt wrote in the exhibition catalog that this portrait was “the exemplification of the savage and noble, an Iroquois statesman ornamented by the British...his poignant facial expression seems to acknowledge the equivocation in the King’s promises of assistance.”
M.A.D. will have more on the sale in an upcoming issue.
Photo courtesy Sotheby's