War in the Peaceable Kingdom

        This painting dramatically visualizes the ambiguities and contradictions of European and American Indian relations in southeastern Pennsylvania during Humphry Marshall’s lifetime.

        A country lane surrounded by lush forest under a cloudless sky serves as the bucolic backdrop for the chaos in the foreground. A small group of American Indians emerge from the dense smoke. Are they attacking a white settlement or returning to their own destroyed village after a hunting trip? The five warriors depicted here could be in conflict with the Iroquois, the English, the French, or other European settlers. Tragically, at different times, they could have been fighting all of the above.

        One warrior holding a wooden war club has a French trade knife hanging from his neck. They all wear traditional leather moccasins and leggings with European-style shirts and waistcoats of cotton, linen or wool. Most are armed with Pennsylvania rifles – Indian marksmanship was legendary. After almost two hundred years of European contact, the Indians who lived along the eastern seaboard became a hybrid culture that, at times, operated in an accommodating holding pattern with settlers. Often, however, they fought a rearguard action.

        The burning beam on the far right, the leaning trees in the distance, and the barely discernible tree trunk in the dark forest to the left, create parallel diagonals. This compositional device works as a visual metaphor for the implacable force moving the warriors forward.  The wind is blowing in the opposite direction carrying the roiling smoke that will engulf these men and they, like their culture, tribe, and homeland, will soon disappear forever.