This watercolor depicts an attractive young woman whom Miller referred to as “quite a belle.” Her skin color, hairstyle, and clothing are typical of an Indian woman, but she is otherwise depicted according to standards of physical beauty that would have appealed to his white audience. Her profile, with its rounded chin and high forehead, resembles that of classical sculptures. Her buckskin dress is positioned implausibly low across her shoulders, so as to resemble the kind of off-the-shoulder neckline popular in Baltimore women’s dresses in the period. Her pose, with head tilted downward and eyes looking off dreamily resemble the poses seen in sentimental gift book illustrations at the time.
According to Miller’s note, she gained the attention of a Mr. P., whom Bernard DeVoto identified as Philipson, a wealthy but undisciplined youth who joined the party at his parent’s behest. P courted the young woman in the sketch unsuccessfully and grieved when she married another trapper. Miller recounted how he and the other trappers quoted poetry to Philipson in order to cheer him up, but to no avail. Quoting Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Miller joked that Philipson was left to “Chew the cud of sweet and bitter fancy.” Miller’s note thus frames the image with a familiar, romantic narrative that would appeal to his Baltimore audience.
LR: A. Miller. LR: 26
The artist; William T. Walters, Baltimore, MD; present owner by gift