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Art of Alfred Jacob Miller @ Amon Carter Museum, Ft. Worth - The Joslyn Omaha, NB

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    Sentimental Journey: The Art of Alfred Jacob Miller at the Amon Carter Museum. Monday, October 13, 2008 By CHARLES DEE MITCHELL / Special Contributor to The
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 14, 2008
      'Sentimental Journey: The Art of Alfred Jacob Miller' at the Amon Carter Museum.
      Monday, October 13, 2008
      By CHARLES DEE MITCHELL / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

      FORT WORTH � Alfred Jacob Miller sold his first works of art while he was a teenager. His father, a successful Baltimore merchant and tavern keeper, put some of his son's sketches in the window of one of his establishments, and they caught the eye of such prominent locals as Johns Hopkins and Robert Gilmor. This would have been in the late 1820s, and it marked the beginning of a career that although closely linked to Baltimore would take him to continental Europe, Scotland, New Orleans and the American West.

      "Sentimental Journey: The Art of Alfred Jacob Miller," at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, follows Miller's career, which was shaped by an encounter in 1837 with Capt. William Drummond Stewart, a Scottish aristocrat on an extended American hunting expedition. Stewart wanted an artist to document his journeys, and after meeting Miller in New Orleans invited him to attend the annual fur traders' rendezvous in Colorado. From there they would continue into the Pacific Northwest.

      This was a fateful meeting for Miller, providing him not only his first significant patron but also the journey that would supply him the subject matter he developed over the rest of his long career.

      Miller's large painting of the rendezvous, an annual gathering of Rocky Mountain trappers and St. Louis businessmen, depicts an event that combines commerce and festivity with a spectacular background of the Rockies. On the trip, Miller produced more than 200 field sketches that capture the sense of adventure he experienced on the yearlong journey.

      In the sketches, the party's Indian guides lead them across prairies and into mountains. In Indian villages they share a pipe with their hosts and take part in shooting competitions. Miller depicts their guides field-dressing a buffalo and also captures humorous moments in the camp. A mule throws its pack in one scene. In another, a member of the expedition, his pants still flapping open in the back, runs from a bear that has surprised him in the latrine.

      What his patron wanted from Miller was not only a record of his journeys in the West but also a vision of the meeting of one aristocrat with his natural peers among the American Indians.

      Miller was well-suited to this task, since his European travels made him into what some of his contempor- aries already described as a French romantic painter of American subjects. While never straying too far from the realities of the landscapes and the people they encountered, the paintings Miller produced back in New Orleans, and later in residence at Stewart's Murthly Castle, depicted Stewart as a sterling example of European manhood gracefully at home among noble savages and self-reliant mountain men.

      When he returned to Baltimore in the 1840s, Miller found a ready market for his Western scenes among the city's elite, many of whom were involved commercially with the frontier. Collectors have always flocked to particular artists, but in the 19th century many of them wanted essentially the same painting.

      The Trapper's Bride, which depicted the wedding ceremony of a trapper and an Indian maiden, was a big hit for Miller. The first canvas he did for Stewart is lost, but in Baltimore he produced six known versions of it, three of which are in this exhibition. The scene varies little. As the formal ceremony takes place in an Indian village, the handsome young trapper gazes lovingly at his young bride, who wears a form-revealing buckskin dress and looks demurely at the ground. Their hands are just about to touch.

      For Miller's patrons this scene provided both an erotic charge and a benign vision of the meeting of East and West. The fact this was a marriage ceremony toned down and made more acceptable the erotic connotations. Other Miller works that show bare-breasted Indians offering trappers a drink of water are much more explicitly risqu�. And the lovingness of the transaction put a romantic gloss on the Baltimore merchants' Western business ventures.

      Since today we associate the word sentimental with the maudlin, the title of this exhibition has to be placed in its historical context. The "sentiments" at that time were defined as an inborn moral sense that allowed one to sympathize with others and that refined one's sensibilities. Miller's patrons found his images elevating. The majestic landscapes filled them with wonder and the sight of a magnificently attired Indian chief on a beautiful horse perched on a bluff allowed them to place themselves in their own idealized visions.

      Charles Dee Mitchell is a Dallas freelance writer.

      Plan your life

      "Sentimental Journey: The Art of Alfred Jacob Miller" continues through Jan. 11 at the Amon Carter Museum, 3501 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Free. 817-738-1933, www.carter museum.org.Tip: other frontier artists
      For a more complete sense of how 19th-century America viewed the frontier, compare Miller's work with that of Karl Bodmer, George Caitlin, Seth Eastman and Charles Deas. The Amon Carter Museum has paintings and drawings by all these artists, and its bookstore stocks titles that address the works.

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