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Portrait of an Indian Man / Monroe Tsatoke

Essay/Description

Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 artist Monroe Tsatoke had fallen ill when he was in his late twenties, during a tuberculosis epidemic, but he continued to paint until his untimely death at age thirty-two, in 1937. In this self-portrait, created about a year before he died, the artist departed from the Kiowa Style or Flatstyle of painting and delved into realism and modernism, evident in his use of shadows and shading to convey depth and dimension, and in his bold colors. The luminous hues of his fully beaded Kiowa vest, silk scarf, and braid bindings frame the artist’s face and highlight his eyes. Here we glimpse the artist’s desire to depict his personal experience. His clothing and adornments—by which he was known and recognized—speak to the intersections between the Indigenous community and the newly formed state of Oklahoma.2 Many of Tsatoke’s paintings celebrate Indigenous ideals and traditions while simultaneously reconciling his experiences with colonial history.

Members of the Kiowa Six art collective,3 including Tsatoke, often attended an annual Inter-Tribal Ceremonial in Gallup, New Mexico, an event that still takes place today. The ceremonial was and continues to be a hub for Native America, giving tribes from the U.S. and Mexico an exciting point of artistic and cultural confluence and celebration. Tsatoke, likely wearing an outfit similar to the one seen here, and other members of the collective would dance and sing at the ceremonial.

By the mid-1930s, Tsatoke’s paintings, along with those of the other Kiowa Six members, had been exhibited widely in Prague, Paris, and Washington, D.C., exposing the artists to a rapidly transforming national and international art world.

—Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2021

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1 Cáuigù is the correct identity used by the Kiowa Tribe.
2 The land that later became Oklahoma had been designated “Indian Territory” by the U.S. government in the early 1800s. Oklahoma became a state in 1907.
3 The Kiowa Six (first known as the Kiowa Five) was an early twentieth-century artist collective under the tutelage of Professor Oscar Jacobson at the University of Oklahoma. The collective birthed an Indigenous art movement known as the Kiowa Style of painting, also called Oklahoma Style and Flatstyle, which is recognized by its lack of figural shading, and backgrounds that have a shallow or indistinguishable depth of field. The other Kiowa Six artists are Spencer Asah, James Auchiah, Jack Hokeah, Stephen Mopope, and Lois Smoky; all are represented in the Gilcrease collection.

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Title(s): 
Portrait of an Indian Man
Creator(s): 
Monroe Tsatoke (Artist)
Culture: 
Native American; Kiowa
Date: 
circa 1936
Materials/Techniques: 
oil on canvas
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
01.1929
Previous Number(s): 
0127.1929; 11158
Department: 
Signed by hand in paint, "TsaToke" in lower right on recto.
Not On View

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