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John Mix Stanley
Osage Scalp Dance
1845
oil
40 3/4 x 60 1/2 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Misses Henry



Of the many significant artists of the western frontier, none could tell a better, or more righteous, tale of the struggle between the forces of civilization and savagery than John Mix Stanley. In Osage Scalp Dance, the Indian poised to deliver a death-blow epitomizes menace. In contrast, the Indian who moves to protect the mother and child introduces a civilizing note, underscored by the presidential peace medal he wears around his neck. He alone among his fellow tribesmen has been visibly touched by white culture. The painting is one of approximately eighty works that Stanley created from subjects gathered when traveling through little-known frontier areas between 1842 and 1853.