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Pocahontas Informing John Smith of a Conspiracy of the Indians, 1855
Edwin White (1817-1877)

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Oil on canvas
21 1/2 x 17 3/8 inches
Status: Available

This painting provided a challenge to the artist because the action is spoken and the setting is at night. Edwin White was drawn to this subject perhaps in part because of this very difficulty. He was a portrait and history painter who studied in Düsseldorf, where the vogue was to use chiaroscuro--contrasting extremes of light and dark emphasized primarily for dramatic effect--in the tradition of Rembrandt's paintings of biblical scenes.


White may never have seen Chapman's The Warning of Pocahontas but he knew the artist's mural of  The Baptism of Pocahontas in the Capitol rotunda. That painting may have reawakened an interest in scenes from her life other than the {rescue}. The large murals that were painted between 1836 and 1855 to fill the four vacant panels in the rotunda had been the nation's premier commissions for history paintings. White was certainly influenced by this cycle, for it inspired him to create works based on two of its themes. In 1852-1853 he produced The Requiem of De Soto and The Separation of the Pilgrims at Delft Haven. White's rendition of the {warning} was most probably also executed during this period.


White's dramatically lit protagonist--like Chapman's--is given center stage and becomes the focus of the viewer's attention. The design of her deerskin clothing does not derive from the sixteenth-century drawings made at Roanoke Island; according to those images, the garment would not have been worn over both arms. But the idea of incised decoration was based on fact, as was the concept of draping a mantle over one shoulder alone. Characteristic of a Düssedorf-style painting, additional details that might have proved distracting are hidden in darkness; the setting is subordinate to the action. Yet within the reduced light there are passages with varied shapes, colors, and textures. These are handled by White with notable skill.       


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This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from Hicklin Galleries, LLC.


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