Game of Checkers
Artist Charles Deas
Deas lived from
1818 to 1867,
near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Winnebagos Indians Playing Checkers
- Game of checkers artist Charles Deas,
a Mid 19th century American realist and
representational artist whose oil paintings
and water colors depicted motifs in genre,
Native and Frontier life on the Great Plains.
- Artist Charles Deas, grandson of the
Revolutionary War leader, Ralph Izard,
was exposed to art as a visitor at the
Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art and in
when he received his general education
from John Sanderson.
- In 1836, Charles Deas failed to gain
entrance into West Point, but then he realized
that the Hudson River outdoor life attracted
him more than life as a cadet and spent
the following two years at the National
Academy in New York City where he focused
on developing his artistic skills in a
variety of subject matter such as figure
drawing, human activity in genre painting,
landscape and narrative paintings; many
of these works he exhibited from 1838.
- During a visit to Philadelphia in 1838, Deas became enthralled and motivated by Catlin’s exhibition of Native paintings and desired “to visit the scenes of Nature’s own children, to share the repast of the hunter and taste the wild excitement of frontier life.”
- In 1840, artist Charles Deas left the East
to visit his brother at Fort Crawford, Prairie
du Chien, Wisconsin, only 10 years after
Seth Eastman and from there he moved to the
western border town of St. Louis in order
to devote his talent to the pictorial representation
of Native Americans, voyageurs and mountain
folk; here he established himself in a permanent
studio as his headquarters for his artistic
- The motifs of his sketches and paintings were a narrative commentary on the fate of the Native societies combined with their culture as depicted in the genre scenes of daily life; Deas also tried to show address issues related to the mixing of the cultures and the nature of everyone’s individual responsibility in certain matters.
- During the winter of 1841 artist Charles
Deas visited Fort Winnebago, Fort Snelling,
Falls and the Sioux; there he created numerous
sketches of Native activities such as the
serene setting in the 1842 painting of
Indians Playing Checkers; in this
representation, Deas displayed the quiet
mood surrounding the checkers game through
muted, somber tones in the background,
but also by use of dramatic lighting to
focus on the actual checkerboard and the
two checkers players facing one another.
- Charles Deas also found expression in
passing from lodge to lodge, the most extraordinary
incidents presented themselves and in the
stillness of the moonlit nights, the echoes
of the Indian lover’s flute blended
with the battle chant or the maiden’s
- Two years later, Charles Deas traveled
to the Pawnees, where he was nicknamed “Rocky
Mountain” because he dressed “like
a fur hunter” and would go
where he pleased.
- Deas possessed a winning personality that helped him to develop an association with the Native American people that he met and he came to understand their culture well; in fact, he had a flair for an entrance into a lodge so that the whole lodge would burst out into laughter.
- Charles returned to New York City in 1847, but shortly afterwards he suffered a mental break down that affected his painting from that time on until his death.
- It is likely that artist Charles Deas
died in a mental facility somewhere in
New York in 1867; despite his huge successes
early in life from age 20, only a very
few canvases have survived.