RUDOLF CRONAU (1855 - 1939). TATANKA-IYOTANKA or SITTING BULL, CHIEF OF THE DAKOTAS, WITH AUTOGRAPH, 1881.
Pen, ink and graphite on artist's board; 16 1/8 x 13 1/8 inches
Signed lower right: “Rud, Cronau 25/10 1881 Fort Randall S. Dae.”
Autographed by the sitter, lower center: “Sitting Bull”
Inscribed verso: “Tatanka-iyotanka - Sitting Bull / famous medicine man and chief of the Dakota Indians. / Drawing made by Rudolf Cronau at Fort Randall / South Dakota on October 25. 1881. / The portrait has Sitting Bull’s signature.”
Provenance: The artist, New York; Margaret Cronau Wunderlich, daughter of the artist; Gerold M. Wunderlich; Private Collection, Florida.
Exhibited: Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, Sitting Bull and the Lakota, June 13, 1999 to October 17, 1999. Catalog.
Wunderlich, Gerold, In "Wilden Westen" Views of the American West, New York: Gerold Wunderlich & Co., 1996; ill. p. 2.
Ballinger, James K., Beyond the Endless River, Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum, 1984; ill. p. 145, pl. 68 and cover.
Cronau, Rudolf, Von Wunderland zu Wunderland. Landschafts -und Lebensbilder aus den Staaten und Territorien der Union, Leipzig: T. 0. Weigel 1886; ill Pl. 2.
Cronau, Rudolf, Fahrten im Lande Der Sioux, Solington: Leipzig: T. 0. Weigel 1886; ill Pl.
Cronau, Rudolf, Im Wilden Westen, Braunschweig: von Otto Lobbecke, 1890.
Born in Solington, Germany, in 1855, Rudolf Cronau was considered by his peers to be one of the leading “Special Correspondents” of his day. That is, he was a writer, who also illustrated his articles, not unlike Frederic Remington. Cronau studied at the Dusseldorf Academy, principally under Andreas Muller and later with Andreas Achenbach. After his studies, he was employed in Leipzig by its two most important newspapers, Das Illustrirte Zeitung and Die Gartenlaube (a weekly newspaper much like Harper's Weekly or Leslie's in New York.) He contributed to both newspapers during the next decade, which published numerous articles by Cronau accompanied by his finely rendered illustrations. In addition he wrote numerous books on his travels.
In 1881, Die Gartenlaube sent him on special assignment to America, where he was to “describe and depict all those natural wonders which had been discovered in the far west of the United States during the first part of the 19th century.” During his first three months in the United States, he visited the eastern cities, New York, Baltimore, and Washington. While in Washington, he met with the Secretary of the Interior, Carl Schutz, who provided him with a pass to enter the Indian reservations in the Far West. In May and June, he made a 1,200-mile trip down the Mississippi from Minneapolis to Cairo, Illinois, with Captain Paul Boyton, who swam down the river using an early prototype of today's wet suit. He then traveled up the Missouri River to Standing Rock Reservation and Fort Randall, where he met Sitting Bull and numerous other Indian chieftains. It was at this time that Cronau's productivity and interest reached its zenith. He became extremely close friends with Sitting Bull, made an exquisite drawing from life of the chief which Sitting Bull, himself, signed, and upon Cronau's departure, exchanged gifts with Sitting Bull. (Sitting Bull was given a photograph of Rudolf Cronau, which he hung around his neck until his death. After many years, the family re-acquired the photograph, which was yanked off Sitting Bull's body.)
After returning to the east in the winter of 1881-82, Cronau made a second trip to the far west the following summer and fall, traveling to California, Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico, where he drew numerous elaborate drawings of the wilderness, primarily, in pen and ink. During this entire trip, Cronau wrote and illustrated twelve articles for Die Gartenlaub under the title "Um Die Ertle".
As a result of illness Cronau returned to Germany late 1882, and for the next several years, wrote about his American adventures. His drawings illustrated several of his travel books including Fahrten Im Lande Der Sioux, Im Wilden West, and Von Wunderland zu Wunderland. The latter was a large portfolio containing good collotype reproductions of Cronau's most interesting drawings, each accompanied by a descriptive text and the present work engendered the most celebrated plates in this volume.
Cronau drew in an unusual, German romantic style, exhibiting an incredible precision, draftsmanship (having been trained in the Dusseldorf Academy), and use of light and shade to add mystery to his compositions. The majority of the drawings were created from life, through direct observation and reveal the opening of the West by an outside observer. In a later trip to South America in the early 1890's, Cronau again produced a collection of unusual illustrations for his publications. By 1894-5 Rudolf Cronau was a foreign correspondent for the German press stationed in Washington, DC. Within a couple of years he had a falling out with his publishers over international politics and he became a free-lance writer in New York for the remainder of his life. He continued publishing books and was a contributor to the then thriving German-American press. Through the balance of his life, however, he always looked back at the trips through the American West as the pinnacle of his career.
This remarkable work is in all likelihood the only life portrait of the famous Sioux Chief, Sitting Bull; it is certainly the earliest. In August of 1881, Cronau journeyed to the Dakota Territories, visiting Standing Rock Reservation and eventually Fort Randall. There, Tatanka-Iyotanka the legendary Chief Sitting Bull who previously led his army into exile in Canada, rather than surrender, finally succumbed to pressure and gave himself up. After the disastrous defeat of General Custer in 1876, in the battle of the little Bighorn, Sitting Bull, known at the “Red Napoleon” fled to Saskatchewan, Canada with several thousand Indians. For a while they lived in relative peace until sources of their food began to give out. Negotiations between Canada and the United States government finally resulted in an agreement, and a band of 187 Indians under Sitting Bull's command was allowed to return to the United States. In the summer of 1881, Cronau spent several weeks at the Standing Rock Indian Agency, before word arrived that that Sitting Bull had been transferred to Fort Randall. Sitting Bull left Standing Rock on September 10th by boat down the Missouri River, and arrived on September 18th. The U.S. Army, fearing that Sitting Bull’s presence at Fort Bufford might result in demonstrations of solidary, moved him to the remote fort in South Dakota. A month later Cronau finally caught up with the chieftain at Fort Randall:
"I entered a spacious store, which is never lacking in a military station; where everything is sold from a plough to a nail. I was immediately struck by the sight of a medium sized figure among numerous Indians standing around the sales counter; a man with a massive head, broad cheek bones, snub nose and narrow mouth. The burly figure was dressed in a bright shirt and a blue rug thrown over his shoulders. His shining black hair, twisted into plats and bound with fur, hung down his mighty chest, whilst an eagle feather was stuck in his long locks.” ... I did not hesitate to approach him and greet him with the words “Welcome, friend Sitting Bull” For a second, the chief seemed nonplused, but as he had already been informed of my arrival and my mission, he stepped forward, grasped my hand and answered: “Welcome, friend Iron Eyes!”"
The following day, October 25th, the Indian leader sat for Cronau and in doing so made possible the creation of one of the most important works of art relating the American West. Sitting Bull advised him that this was the first time he sat for a white artist and during the pose spoke to him of his deep concern for the future of the Indian race. The drawing is the largest and most striking of the eighteen portraits Cronau composed of the Indian dignitaries while at Standing Rock and Fort Randall during the fall of 1881. Upon its completion, Sitting Bull added his personal signature, authenticating it as being from life. Cronau remained with the Sioux for approximately three months. During this time, he made numerous studies of not only the people, but their tents, their tools and implements as well.