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Two Guns Great Northern Railway Print Ad Painted by Winold Reiss

Winold Reiss (1886-1953) was a German-born artist who immigrated to America in 1913 at 27-years of age after having trained as an artist in Germany. Surviving photographs suggest he was not dissimilar in appearance to a young Albert Einstein. He described himself as a modernist, though the term realist was added later, and his works were exhibited extensively during his lifetime. After death, his works continued to receive study and acclaim and they are still exhibited regularly. Recent exhibits include viewings at the Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, OH), Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas, TX), the German Consulate (New York, NY) and Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY).

Reiss (pronounced “Rice”) believed that portraits could capture the soul of the individual and he produced a series of portraits titled the “New Negroes” in Harlem that received wide acclaim before going to the US West to produce Native American portraits of members of the Blackfeet and Blood Indians of the US Northwest and Canada. This latter series would be used in an extensive advertising campaign by the Great Northern Railway. Larger works include the Cincinnati Union Terminal Mural.

The present print ad is titled “Two Guns” with caption-

“Son of one of the last great Pecunnie Chieftains, White Calf, who died in Washington, D.C., in 1904, while there on a mission for his people.”

The bottom margin of the portrait also has “Printed in U.S.A.” on the right side and “From original portrait by Winold Reiss, New York. Copyright Great Northern Ry. Co., Saint Paul”. This series of advertisements were apparently produced in 1940, though it cannot be stated unequivocally that there were not slightly prior or later productions.

The subject of the portrait, Two Guns (1872-1934), has long been associated with the Buffalo nickel. Two Guns became a chief upon the death of his father and headed up a largely secret organization named the Mad Dog Society that had as its goal the preservation of Blackfoot heritage. He also continued to request or otherwise compel the United States government to pay the monies owed to Native Americans, where he and his goals were not always accepted readily. The lasting “claim to fame” for Two Guns, in the eyes of most living today, would be his association with the portrait on the Buffalo nickel. James Earle Fraser had written in 1913 that Iron Tail, Two Moons “and one or two others” were used to produce a composite portrait. Almost immediately, John Two Guns White Calf emerged as the third person in the composite, though this has never been proven definitively.

The print ad featured here is approximately 9 inches x 12 inches with overall terrific integrity to the paper though it has some corner dents and mild, localized creases consistent with its age. The reverse is unmarked, but has an approximately 2-3 inch remnant of fabric-type tape at the center top. The portrait was produced in bright, vivid colors and this has been retained.

 

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