Seth Eastman1808 - 1875
Draftsman, Painter, Military Officer
Born: 1808, Brunswick, Maine
Died: 1875, Washington, D.C.
As a career military man, Seth Eastman traveled along the Mississippi frontier during the first half of the nineteenth century as part of his service in the army. After graduating from West Point in 1829, he served as a topographical draftsman at Fort Crawford in Wisconsin and Fort Snelling in Minnesota. He regularly sketched the Indians and landscapes of the military forts where he served and also learned the languages and customs of many tribes, especially the Dakotas and Chippewas. From 1833 to 1840, Eastman taught drawing at West Point, continued to study art under C.R. Leslie and Robert W. Weir, and exhibited at the Apollo Gallery and National Academy of Design. He returned to Fort Snelling in 1841 to continue his Indian studies. After tours of duty in Texas and Utah, he served in the Civil War as a quartermaster general and then retired as a brigadier general. Congress commissioned the artist to paint Indian and fort scenes for the Capitol building in 1867.
Eastman sketched and painted realistic, detail images of frontier life at the forts. He focused his subjects on the Indians who would meet at the forts as well as the landscapes along the Mississippi. Using daguerreotype photographs and pencil sketches from the field, Eastman composed watercolor and oil paintings that are extremely detailed and accurate without changing the original compositions. The artist only altered his paintings from the field sketches by adding a canoe, deer, or some other element to add a sense of scale to the landscape.
Henry Lewis bought over eighty of Eastman's sketches as resource material for his panorama project as well as his book Das Illustrirte Mississippithal. Eastman also collaborated with his wife on several books, including The Romance of Indian Life, American Aboriginal Portfolio, and Chicora, in which she wrote the text and he provided illustrations. Eastman's paintings can be seen in the Capitol building, Smithsonian Institution, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Gilcrease Museum, the Stark Museum, and the Joslyn Museum of Art.