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Friday, March 23, 2012

Offering of the Day: A Very Rare and Important Etching of a Native American from the New York Region Executed by Wenseslaus Hollar, the most Accomplished European Engraver of the 17th Century

Wenceslaus Hollar (1607 - 1677)
Unus Americanus ex Virginia. Ætat: 23.
Antwerp: Wenceslaus Hollar, 1645.
$35,000

EXCEPTIONALLY FINE ETCHED HALF-LENGTH PORTRAIT (sheet size 4 ¼ x 3 ¼ inches, showing the plate-mark) of "Jaques" a warrior of the Munsee-Delaware people (one or two insignificant spots).

FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE, of two known states, this one lacking the * after "1645". This exceptional half-length portrait depicts a twenty-three-year old man, adorned with wampum necklace, head ornaments, and earrings, and with lateral facial markings, facing left.  Until recently, the sitter was described as an unidentified Algonquin Indian.  However, his true identity has been discovered: "The Indian is thought to be a certain "Jaques," a warrior taken prisoner by colonists and subsequently given by Director Kieft to two WIC soldiers, Peter Cock and Peter Ebel. In 1644 the soldiers took Jaques to Amsterdam, where he was put on display as a curiosity.  From a contract dated 3 September 1644, now in the Amsterdam City Archives, it emerges that special arrangements were made for exhibiting the man to the public.  Wenceslaus Hollar, the maker of this print, will have seen the Indian in Antwerp, where he drew him from life in 1645." (Gosselink)

"Unus Americanus" is often referred to as the first portrait of a Native American printed from life; this distinction is erroneous.  Simon de Passe's 1616 portrait of Pocahontas was published 30 years before Hollar's and probably deserves that title.  Nonetheless, the Hollar etching is a very early printed portrait of a Native American warrior, from an important era in the colonization of America. "Unus Americanus" is part of a major turning point in the way Native Americans were depicted in Western art; it communicates a level of humanity and personhood that had previously gone unacknowledged.

Wenceslaus Hollar was born in Prague, in 1607, and worked as an acclaimed and prolific engraver in Bohemia, London, and, during the English Civil War, in the Netherlands. In the 1640s Holland was taken with an intense interest in the New World, largely spurred on by the development of settlements in New Netherlands. Hollar was keen to capitalize on this new found curiosity.  In addition to "Unus Americanus," he pursued at least one other opportunity to market a portrait of a Native American: he copied a picture of a Virginian woman from de Bry, publishing it in the early 1640s.

VERY RARE: we can only find seven other first issues of this etching in the Rijksmuseum, Frankfurt, London, Cambridge, Windsor, Wolfegg Castle, and the Library of Congress.

Gosselink, Martine, New York New Amsterdam, 173; Hamell, George R., unpublished paper "Jaques: A Munsee from New Netherland, 1644" (1996); New Hollstein German etchings, engravings and woodcuts, 1450-1700, 816; Pennington, R. Descriptive catalogue of the etched work of Wenceslaus Hollar, 2009.    

Catalogued by Alex Clausen for Arader Galleries.

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