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Charles Bird King
Young Omahaw, War Eagle, Little Missouri, and Pawnees
1821
oil
36 1/8 x 28 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Miss Helen Barlow



King, who painted many prominent patrons in his Washington, D.C., studio, used an eighteenth-century tradition of multiple portraits to describe his Native American subjects. The portraits are probably based on the likenesses of two Pawnee chiefs: Petalesharro, chief of the Pawnee Loups, and Peskelechaco, chief of the Republican Pawnees, whom King painted when they traveled to Washington with a tribal delegation. The Indians' bare shoulders, buffalo robes, and body decorations—their earrings are in fact wampum—imply that they are “primitive,” yet their impressive physiques and countenances suggest more. King, in the spirit of New World Enlightenment, conceived of these men as Roman nobles, to be admired for physical prowess as well as reason.