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    Sitting Bull: A Marvelous Oil Portrait, Painted from Life by H. H. Cross in 1882, and Actually Signed by the Great Chief. H. H. Cross was one of the best known Western painters of the day. He is believed to have produced some 1000 works, half of which were Western subject matter. Among his familiar subjects: Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson, Brigham Young, Jim Bridger, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Chief Gall and many other well known figures in Western history. Cody described him as "the greatest painter of Indian portraiture of all times." (Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West, p. 116)

    The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma has the largest collection of Cross paintings, numbering nearly 100. His depiction of "Buffalo Bill" Cody taking the scalp of Yellow Hand is one of their most popular paintings. The Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming and the Chicago Historical Society also house a number of his works.

    Cross took a particular interest in personalities and events related to the Little Bighorn battle, having been on the scene shortly after the confrontation. He is said to have been the only artist permitted to paint the Sioux leader Sitting Bull from life, and the two became close friends. That acquaintance pre-dates the Little Bighorn massacre; Cross painted Sitting Bull's camp in the Big Horn Mountains in 1873, a work reproduced by Time-Life Books in 1981 as the centerfold of The Threatened World of Sitting Bull. Cross had taken a special interest in the Sioux for many years, having moved to Minnesota in 1862 to paint the Indians sentenced to hang for their role in the infamous Sioux Uprising there.

    The Sioux leader was almost certainly Cross's most popular subject. According to a 1912 newspaper account, he painted thirty-three portraits of Sitting Bull. The 1882 example offered here is a marvelous, immediately recognizable image of the great man while he was still close to his prime. He exudes strength and confidence perhaps bordering on arrogance, as well as a hint of the resentment and hostility one might expect in a great leader only recently forced to submit to the white man's world.

    The present example is also notable both for the biographical information and date which Cross has neatly printed in the upper right-hand corner, and particularly for the presence of Sitting Bull's familiar autograph painted in the upper left, below which Cross has noted "His own signature". A signed Sitting Bull cabinet photo is a rare prize, but cannot begin to compete with this oil portrait by a significant Western artist and actually signed by the great chief!

    Interestingly, it is only because of a fortuitous misunderstanding that this painting remains available for private ownership. Some twenty years ago the owner donated it to a major museum. However, there was confusion: the donor believed that the institution had agreed to his stipulation that the painting must go on permanent public display. However, the museum had a policy of not making such commitments, and so the donation fell through.

    Accompanying the painting is an authentication and appraisal by respected authority R.G. "Rudy" Wunderlich. In 1992 he appraised the work at $40,000. The highest price yet attained by a Cross painting at auction is $32,400. However, it is hard to envision a more important example of this artist's work than the one offered here.

    The painting itself measures 14.5" x 18.5", 18" x 22" as framed. Condition on this important work is just beautiful. Phrases such as "museum quality" and "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" are often abused in auction descriptions, but in this case they seem right on the mark.

    For comparative purposes: An autographed photo of Sitting Bull sold for $29,005 in a May 2012 New York area autograph auction. This was a 4.25" x 6.5" cabinet photo, signed on the reverse (same image as Lot 44126 in this auction).

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2012
    10th Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 6
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 8,086

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $14) per lot.

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