Miller’s female shown here is more modest than most nineteenth-century odalisques made famous by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Eugene Delacroix, however many scholars point to the female’s contorted pose and Miller’s treatment of the staged environment as key references to this motif. Her sleeping figure rests on top of a buffalo robe, with only her bare feet and ankles hinting at her body beneath. She is framed with a draped blanket and tree, which acts much as a column, again referencing academic treatments of nudes. In this work especially, Miller creates a very romantic, dreamy image through his treatment of the watercolor, loose brushwork, and background teepees, which appear nestled in the sky.
Emily C. Wilson
A mid-day rest was typical in the Rocky Mountain West, much like the siestas of the southern trappers around Taos and Santa Fe. Nathaniel Wyeth often recorded where his company nooned on their journey to the 1834 rendezvous at Hams’ Fork. Alfred Jacob Miller also described how Every day at 12 o’clock the caravan halts, the horses are permitted to rest and feed, men receive their dinner, and then take a siesta ... The time however to me was too valuable to indulge in the luxury, – so immediately after our halt, I would mount the wagon, get out my port-folio, and go to work.
This image is of a young Shoshone girl lying on a buffalo robe under an awning made from a striped blanket, stretched and tied in the tree branches above her. Several of Miller’s images depict a wool blanket draped in the low hanging branches of a tree to provide a sun screen for those who sit beneath it. This was not an uncommon method used by Indian and trapper alike to create shade where there was none. Blankets were mentioned as part of trapper gear and as a primary trade item in many period journal written by trappers.
Shoshone Girl Dress:
The lass wears what appears to be a fringed buckskin dress with a woven red sash tied about her waist. Though barefoot in this painting, most Native women would have typically worn moccasins accompanied with leggings that extended nearly to the knee. John Ball, who traveled to the 1832 rendezvous in Pierre’s Hole, present Teton Valley, Idaho, remember Indian women’s “dresses somewhat ornamented by a projecting edge of the leather, cut into a fringe, shells, feathers and beads, when to be had, worked into their dresses, or in their hair.” Various textiles were traded at rendezvous which, as Warren Ferris pointed out, provided options in clothing fabric. The Indian women he met
are usually dressed in broad cloths, either green, scarlet, or blue. Their frocks are commonly of the latter color entirely, or a combination of the other two; the waist and sleeves being composed of one, and the skirt of the other; and these dresses appear very becoming. On their heads they wear nothing but handkerchiefs, and their feet are enveloped in moccasins.
Ball, John, Autobiography of John Ball
Barlow, Kathleen, “Trappers’ Brides: Intercultural Marriages in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade”
Ferris, Warren, Life in the Rocky Mountains
Ross, Marvin C., The West of Alfred Jacob Miller
Hardee, Jim, Obstinate Hope, the Western Expeditions of Nathaniel J. Wyeth, 1832-1833
LL: AJM. LR: Snake Female—Reposing. UL: X.
The artist; by descent to Louisa Whyte Norton; [The Old Print Shop, New York, 1947]; The Boatmen’s Bank, St. Louis, Missouri, 1947; Bank of America, New York, NY; present owner, 2013