Wednesday, December 18, 2013
The Curious Case of Currier & Ives’ Buffalo
It is a well-documented that Nathaniel Currier’s and Currier & Ives’ western prints were not based on first-hand drawings. The firm was issuing these prints for an audience most of the members of which had never seen the American West and it was easier and less expensive to make up views than to try to procure first-hand renderings. The number of such Currier/Currier & Ives western prints, issued over many years, is a strong indication that this lack of genuineness was not an issue with the print buying public.
Still, it is particularly striking that none of the four main artists who produced Currier/Currier & Ives western prints—A.F. Tait, Louis Maurer, John Cameron, and Fanny Palmer—had travelled west of the Mississippi before making their western prints, and I think of these artists only Maurer ever got there at all.
The textual information, perhaps, but the image is rather odd looking. The print was drawn by James Hope Stewart (1789-1856), a Scottish farmer who produced the images on at least 545 of Jardine’s Naturalist Library prints. Stewart was an amateur artist from Gillenbie, Scotland, and he obviously never saw a buffalo.
His picture of the buffalo was clearly the source of the images in Currier & Ives “The Rocky Moutains.” The buffalo at the front and center is simply a reversed image of the Jardine print and the other buffalo are variations of that central image. This is not, certainly, an earth-shattering discovery, but it made my day to discover finally the source of the curious Currier & Ives buffalo.