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Winter, George Scene on the Wabash, No Date


George Winter, the youngest of 12 children, was born in England. His family was well educated, and their home had a gallery where he often listened to people talk about art. The town itself contained many collections of celebrated paintings. Having decided to become an artist, Winter spent four years in London. He arrived in New York City in 1830 and studied at the National Academy of Design. He went to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1836 and to Logansport, Indiana, in May 1837, where he spent the next 14 years. He became a U.S. citizen in 1841.

Apparently he was drawn to Logansport by a desire to record the appearance of the Potawatomi and Miami Indians who were being removed beyond the Mississippi River following their relinquishment of their native lands to the U.S. government. Winter had never seen an American Indian before his arrival at Logansport, and his journal records his reaction: “The Indian as I found him was not the one I had seen through the imagination or fancy; he was clothed in varied colored draperies, each in accordance with his own peculiar conceit. Instead of the shaved head and scalp lock towering from the center of the cranium, his head was wrapped around with a shawl of many colors, turban fashion, a la Turk, presenting a picturesque appearance.” Winter’s paintings are an extremely valuable historical record of the customs of these Indiana Indian tribes.

Winter also painted portraits of local settlers and landscapes from sketches he made along the Wabash River, often with groups of American Indians painted into them. In his book Pioneer Painters, the art historian Wilbur Peat says of Winter’s landscapes, “Tinged with an air of romanticism in both composition and color, and planned to bring out the most picturesque aspects of the region, they became very popular, finding their way into many local [Lafayette] homes.”

In 1850 Winter opened a studio in Lafayette and painted commissioned portraits. In 1852 he started his “Distributions”: he would hold a public showing of a group of paintings, sell chances for one or two dollars, and then hold a drawing to determine the winners of the paintings. In 1874 he went to California and made numerous sketches. He died only a week after he returned to Lafayette in 1876.

  • Scene on the Wabash, n.d.
  • 24″ x 28 3/4″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: paintings, natural landscapes, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: outdoors, people, men, women, rivers, islands, clouds, American Indians

This scene is near Pipe Creek and was painted at Logansport, which Winter described in his later journal of Logansport: “Its locality possessed very many natural beauties; the river views were picturesquely charming, being dotted with many thrifty islands.” Rivers were probably Winter’s favorite subjects for landscapes.

The sky and land become one in the background of this painting, giving it a soft quality. There are three parallel levels: the foreground, the islands and water, and the clouds. The trees make an interesting contrast: the smaller one points towards the sky and the lower pine branch points towards the women. Notice how the men and women are separated.

Some Points To Consider

  • Ask students to describe how the poses of the people and the horse and the treatment of the background help to create a mood. (Art 4.3.1)
  • Ask: What does this painting mean? What story does it depict about American Indians and their culture? Does the picture seem to foretell what might happen to American Indians? In what way? (4.3.1)