Gilbert Stuart's work may be most valuable portrait of North American leader ever produced
200 year old portrait of Mohawk leader Joseph Brant sells for staggering $7.5 million (Photograph: Courtesy of Sotheby's)
LONDON-ENG-A portrait of Six Nations of the Grand River Mohawk leader Joseph Brant has sold at auction for $7.5 million
It may be the most valuable portrait of a Canadian/US historical figure that’s ever been produced. And the stunning $7.5-million sale at a British auction earlier this month of an 18th-century depiction of legendary Mohawk leader Joseph Brant is a testament to the role Brant played in Canadian and U.S. history, as well as the sterling reputation of the artist — American painter Gilbert Stuart — who created the striking 1786 image of the man known to his fellow Iroquoians as Thayendanegea.
The painting, which had been expected to fetch about $2 million at Sotheby’s July 8 auction of historic art, was finally acquired by an unidentified American collector after bidding among five contenders had soared to nearly four times that amount.
A Sotheby’s spokesperson declined to say whether any Canadian collectors or museums were among those vying for the artwork.
“The price achieved owed much to the condition and rarity of the picture, as well as its impeccable provenance, but also to the importance of both the sitter and the artist to the history of North America,”
Julian Gascoigne, a Sotheby’s art specialist, said of the 76-by-61-centimetre oil-on-canvas, which has been in the possession of the same prominent British family — the Percys, dukes of Northumberland — since it was painted more than 225 years ago.
“Here you had one of the most famous and influential Native American figures in early American history,” Gascoigne added, “painted by the first great, and possibly best-known American portraitist, in one of his most powerful and enigmatic works.”
The huge price reflects the significant part the Ohio-born Brant played a s a British ally during the U.S. War of Independence — in which he fought alongside and befriended Hugh Percy, the second Duke of Northumberland — and his leadership among the Iroquois nations of New York and Upper Canada. Brant died in what would become Burlington, Ont., in 1807 after securing the nearby Grand River lands that became home to the Six Nations, which today constitutes Canada’s single largest aboriginal community.
The names of Brant County and Brantford, Ont., honour his legacy; a statue of Brant also stands near Parliament Hill in Ottawa as part of the Canadian government’s Valiants Memorial, a series of busts and statues paying tribute to 14 heroic figures who “represent critical moments in Canada’s military history.”
Brant, who had also fought from 1758-1760 as a teenage warrior against the French during the Seven Years’ War, served as a key British ally during the American Revolution. Leading Mohawk and other Iroquoian fighters in several major battles, Brant even drew non-aboriginal troops into his command as respect for his military prowess spread among loyalist forces.
Well-educated and fluent in English, Brant emerged after the war as a top diplomatic representative for the Iroquoian nations, spearheading efforts to unify their voices and leading the settlement of lands in the future southern Ontario in the 1780s. He travelled several times to England, meeting with King George III to lobby directly — with mixed results — for British government support in protecting aboriginal territory from American military threats and the encroachment of colonial settlements.