A Brave Old World

I thought I might share some interesting information that I learned while reading Dr. Lisa Strong’s essays for the exhibition catalogue for Sentimental Journey: The Art of Alfred Jacob Miller

Did you know that in Great Britain there is a long history of comparing American Indians and Highland Scots? Both groups were idealized as valiant warriors and free spirits, whose way of life was supposedly coming to an end. Sir William Drummond Stewart’s (1795–1871) ancestral estates were in the Highlands, and he appears to have embraced such comparisons. In addition to the paintings and sketches created by Alfred Jacob Miller during their travels in the Rocky Mountains, Stewart adorned his home with Indian artifacts, planted seeds of native plants in his kitchen garden, and attempted to raise bison on his grounds. My particular favorite is this pair of mahogany bison chairs that Stewart commissioned upon his return to Scotland.

It is also significant that of the field sketches that Miller created Stewart preferred images that showed Stewart and the American Indians engaged in activities that were traditional aristocratic pursuits: big game hunting deer stalking, horse racing, and archery competitions. In both content and style these works establish connections between American Indians and Scottish aristocratic culture, suggesting that Stewart saw American Indians as a kind of indigenous aristocracy. Taking this idea one step further, Strong suggests that since highlanders were lauded for similar traits of honor, martial skill, hospitality these images made Stewart appear more authentic Scotsman as well as aristocrat.