Wisconsin Historical Museum Online Collections
Portrait painting: Chief Black Hawk, by Robert M. Sully, 1855
Object ID: 1942.40
AAT Object Term: portrait , oil painting , replica
Materials/Medium: oil paint , canvas
Black Hawk -- "Born in 1767; died Oct. 3, 1838. The original portrait, of which this is an improved replica, was painted by Sully at Fortress Monroe, while Black Hawk was confined there in 1833. Black Hawk was the leader of 'the British band' of Sac Indians, who had long had their home at the junction of the Rock river with the Mississippi. Obliged to move to the west side of the Mississippi in 1831 in accordance with treaty stipulation, Black Hawk re-entered Illinois in the spring of 1832, thus giving rise to an Indian war in which the Sacs were driven up the Rock river and in their flight westward from Lake Koshkonong suffered disastrous defeats at Wisconsin Heights (Prairie du Sac), and at the mouth of the Bad Ax river (near the present village of Victory, Vernon county). The latter engagement closed the Black Hawk war, and the leader, being now captured, was confined for a time at Jefferson Barracks and at Fortress Monroe, being finally placed for safe-keeping in the custody of Keokuk, head chief of the Foxes. For an account of the war, see Wisconsin Historical Collections, vol. XII., pp. 216-265." (Reuben Gold Thwaites, Second Triennial Catalogue of the Portrait Gallery of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1892.)
"Black Hawk (1767-Oct. 3,1838), Sauk war chief (Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kaik, 'Black Sparrow Hawk'), b. at the Indian Village of Saukenuk, near Rock Island, Ill. His antagonism toward Americans grew out of old loyalties and mutal understandings which were largely a result of the Sauk-Fox Confederacy land cession in the Treaty of 1804, reaffirmed in 1816. During The War of 1812 Black Hawk participated on the British side as a member of the Indian Confederacy led by the Shawnee chief, Tecumseh. During the 1830's leadership of the Sauk tribe, based on prestige and influence, was contested between the peaceful and pro-American Chief Keokuk and the aging Black Hawk. In 1830 when the tribe was ordered to abandon its lands on Rock River, Keokuk complied, but for a time Black Hawk refused and his antognism increased when encroaching settlers destroyed Indian crops and burial gounds. Unequipped to fight for his lands, Black Hawk was soon forced to join the rest of the Sauk in Iowa, where the old chief's dislike of Keokuk and sense of injustice was played upon by the followers of Winnebago spiritual leader known as White Cloud, or The Prophet. On Apr. 6, 1832, Black Hawk, with his entire band including women and children, recrossed the Mississippi. Apparently one of his intentions was to plant and harvest a corn crop, but he was influenced by The Prophet, who assured him that a great Indian Confederacy would form behind him as it had done under the leadership of Tecumseh. Proceeding up the Rock River, Black Hawk defied governement orders to turn back and the Illinois and Wisconsin area was soon rife with tales of Indian war. With resistance forming against him, it soon became apparent to Black Hawk that The Prophet's assurances of Indian and British support were mythical, and he prepared to turn back. So far no blood had been shed, but on May 14, 1832, Black Hawk's flag of truce was violated by a party of volunteers near Dixon, Ill.; the Indians returned the fire and volunteers fled in panic. Reports of this affair led to an Indian scare that bordered on hysteria. Black Hawk, at first encouraged by this easy victory, took refuge in Rock River swamps near Beloit. Several weeks later the Indian band, pursued by militia, volunteers, and regular army troops began a fight northward through Wisconsin in a desperate attempt to recross the Mississippi. In this chase, which lasted for over two months, several skirmishes were fought, but eventually many of the Indians succeeded in reaching the Mississippi near the mouth of the Bad Axe River. On Aug. 1, 1832, they attempted to cross the Mississippi but were driven back by the arrival of the steamboat, 'Warrior.' Although the Indians attempted to surrender, they were met with cannon and rifle fire. The following day the pursuing land forces arrived and the Indians were completely crushed, more than 300 being killed or drowned. Black Hawk managed to escape, but was captured later near Wisconsin Dells. After a brief imprisonment and a trip to the East to impress him with the strength of the government, Black Hawk was returned to Illinios. In 1833 he dictated his autobiography to an interpreter at Rock Island and shortly thereafter was returned to Iowa." (State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Dictionary of Wisconsin Biography, 1960, p.37-38.)
"During the past year, eight portraits have been received, and now adorn our Hall. Five of them are from the pencil of the late Robert M. Sully -- [including] an improved copy of his Black Hawk..." (Second Annual Report and Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin for the Year 1856, 1857, p. 12.)
"The portraits of Black Hawk, Na-she-a-kusk and Wa-pe-she-ka [Wabokieshiek], were purchased at a mere nominal price from Mr. Sully; while those of Pocahontas and Chief Justice Marshall were liberally presented by the lamented artist." (Second Annual Report and Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin for the Year 1856, 1857, p. 13.)
"The preservation of the likenesses of early Indian Chiefs is too often overlooked, and we suffer the consequences. Still we are fourtunate in having striking portraits of Black Hawk, and the leaders of his band, who were at one time the terror of the whites of the North West. The original portrait of Black Hawk, of which this is an improved copy, was painted by Sully at Fortress Monroe, Old Point Comfort, Virginia, while Black Hawk was a U.S. prisoner, and strikingly depicts the sad and mournful expression of a captive chief, struggling to subdue his feelings, and repress the sad emotion of a vanquished chieftain. There is a dignity in his look, an expression half concealed by the cloud of sadness that shades his brow, that marks him as a man of character and of true greatness. He is clad in the English dress, and one in gazing upon his portrait might well imagine him a Roman, looking mournfully upon his degenerated country. There is less of the features and expression which we are wont to associate with the Indian name and character, than we usually find. Of the truth of the likeness we have many living witnesses now among us, all of whom agree as to its exact and striking correctness." (Second Annual Report and Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin for the Year 1856, 1857, p. 41.)
"[Robert M. Sully], deciphering tombstone inscriptions in ancient graveyards, and sketching, upon his return to America, in 1828, the ruins of Jamestown and Wisconsin's Indians, including Blackhawk, imprisoned at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, in 1833." (Porter Butts, Art in Wisconsin, 1936, p. 89.)
"Robert M. Sully, of Richmond, Virginia, who in 1833, painted from life, spirited and truthful portraits of Black Hawk, his son, and The Prophet, is making copies of them for our Society; and from his skilful [sic] pencil our collection is furthermore to be enriched by a beautiful portrait of the renowned Indian Princess, Pocahontas, and a painting of the Ruins of Jamestown, from drawings made by the artist upon that classic ground. Mr. Sully also hopes to be able to make for the Society a copy from his original portrait of Chief Justice [John] Marshall. As Mr. Sully has intentions of soon making our favored State his home, how appropriate that the delineator upon canvass of Black Hawk and two of his noted followers upon the war-path of our soil, should visit in our midst and paint the battle-fields of the old chieftan, to be sacredly preserved in the Hall of our Society!" (First Annual Report and Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin for the Year 1854, 1855, p. 12.)
"[Thomas] Sully's nephew Robert Mathew Sully, who was also a painter, answered the Society's invitation favorably and suggested that he wanted to visit Wisconsin to record the land and the people. Draper planned on bringing Robert Sully to Madison to paint Wisconsin's native Indians, historic battlegrounds, early pioneers, and prominent public men for the Society. Unfortunately Sully died unexepectedly in 1855 in Buffalo, New York, on his way to Madison. However, as a result of Sully's interest, the Society possesses a number of his works, including replicas of his portraits of Sauk (or Sac) chief Black Hawk, his son Nasheakush, and Wabokieshiek, 'the prophet.' Sully painted the original portraits in 1833 when the three Indians were imprisioned at Fort Monroe, Virginia." (James F. Jensen, "Nineteenth-Century American Painting and Sculpture at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin," Antiques, cx (5), 1976, p. 1012.)
"...though Sully remains unconscious of its effect, the English influence on his painting style is inexorably at work, and shows how far apart a painter in the East, developing British tradition, was from the unmodified directness of painters like Catlin or Brookes raised on the western frontier.
This same idealization and grace he gives also to 'Blackhawk'...painted in 1833 [incorrect date -- this is the date of the original painting] at Fortress Monroe and hanging in the Wisconsin Historical Museum. As the press of the time said, '[This] painting [is] executed in the high style of art.' Compared to Brookes' Indian paintings, Sully' s have soft colors and outlines, an unvarying and unlife-like chocolate red in the faces, a graceful flourish to the tilt of the head and the sweep of the robes.... Blackhawk's hands, indeed, show an inferior draughtsmanship not often found in Brookes.
"Carpenter, Sully's critic and commentator...writes, while noting the Society's pride in possessing such correct likeness of Blackhawk...
'The portrait of Blackhawk...strikingly depicts the sad and mournful expression of a captive chief, struggling to subdue his feelings, and repress the sad emotion of a vanquished chieftain. There is a dignity in his look, an expression half concealed by the cloud of sadness that shades his brow, that marks him a man of character and of true greatness. He is clad in the English dress, and one in gazing upon his portrait might well imagine him a Roman, looking mournfully upon his degenerate country. There is less of the features and expression which we are want to associate with the Indian name and character, than we usually find. Of the truth of the likeness we have many living witnesses now among us, all of whom agree as to exact and striking correctness.'" (Porter Butts, Art in Wisconsin 1936, p. 91-92.)
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