Delacroix and Miller

Near East Far West Online Exhibition Guide

In 1832, aspiring American artist Alfred Jacob Miller studied in Italy and France. In Paris, he sketched works by artist Eugène Delacroix who, the same year, was on his first and only trip to Morocco and Algeria. For the remainder of Delacroix’s career, and from the vantage point of his Parisian studio, he created brightly painted North African–themed works for French audiences. Similarly, after returning to the United States and spending one memorable summer at a fur trappers’ rendezvous in what is now Wyoming in 1837, Miller began creating western-themed works from his Baltimore studio for wealthy urban patrons.

These single adventures impacted both artists’ careers and promoted the mythos of the artist-explorer. Indebted to European Romanticism, a movement in arts and philosophy that emphasized feeling and expression, Delacroix and Miller produced visions of foreign places that underscore nobility, energy, and sensuality. The lessons Miller learned from Delacroix and his contemporaries shaped his interpretations of the American West and would cascade through generations of western artists.

Eugène Delacroix
Combat of the Giaour and the Pasha
Oil paint on canvas
28¾ × 24 in.
The Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, PDUT1162. © British Library/HIP/Art Resource, NY

Delacroix first painted this subject—based on an English poem by Lord Byron about a fatal love triangle between a Christian man, a Muslim Pasha (a high-ranking Turkish officer), and one of the Pasha’s concubines—in the 1820s. His trip to Morocco, during which time he witnessed ceremonial courses de poudre (equestrian displays of firearms), may have inspired this later version. Both the original poem and Delacroix’s painting present an “Orient” that is exotic and violent.

Alfred Jacob Miller
Buffalo Hunt with Lances
Oil paint on canvas
21½ × 34 in.
Colby Museum of Art: The Lunder Collection, 2013.206. Photograph by Peter Siegel, Pillar Digital Imaging, LLC.

In 1858, Baltimore patron William T. Walters commissioned Alfred Jacob Miller to paint 200 western-themed watercolors as well as two oil paintings, including this one. Painted 20 years after his foray into the West, Miller drew on his own memories and sketches as well as other artists’ renderings of big game hunts. Walters also collected French Orientalist artworks and championed Antoine-Louis Barye, some of whose work is on display in the next gallery.


Eugène Delacroix
Two Views of a Young Arab
about 1832
Watercolor over graphite on paper
11¾ × 13⅝ in.
The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Nelson and Juanita Greif Gutman Collection, BMA 1976.27. Photography by Mitro Hood

Eugène Delacroix
Studies of Moroccan Men, Standing, Seated, and Mounted on Horseback, with Detailed Studies of a Foot in a Stirrup and a Burnoose
Graphite on paper
6⅝ × 9⅝ in.
Morgan Library & Museum: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander B.V. Johnson, III, 124a, [unnumbered leaf]. Photography by The Morgan Library & Museum, New York.

Alfred Jacob Miller
The Indian Guide
about 1837
Ink on paper
9 x 11 in.
ift of Mr. and Mrs. John B. Bunker and Lemon Saks, 1966.109. Photography courtesy Denver Art Museum

Alfred Jacob Miller
Snake Indians
unknown date
Watercolor on paper
5 1/2 x 4 7/8 in.
The Eugene B. Adkins Collection at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma and the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Both Eugène Delacroix and Alfred Jacob Miller made many sketches while traveling and put them to use in finished studio paintings. Plucking out and recombining poses, garments, facial features, and landscape elements from their sketches, as was the common studio practice of the time, transformed their observations and memories into fictional representations. Here, Delacroix captures details large and small to remember the people whom he encountered in Morocco. Two of Miller’s sketches feature his patron Sir William Drummond Stewart, who commissioned him to attend the rendezvous.

Community Voices

One scholar highlighted the ways in which stereotypes continue to impact Indigenous communities:

Alfred Jacob Miller
The Scalplock
about 1850
Oil on canvas
35 x 27 1/4 in.
Denver Art Museum: William Sr. and Dorothy Harmsen Collection, 2001.459

The Noble Savage and Brutal Savage stereotypes were used to justify various approaches to Indigenous cultures throughout the Americas from the beginning of the European invasion. Allies were ‘good Indians’ and those who resisted were ‘bad Indians.’ It was that simple. Both stereotypes served to make Indigenous people seem irredeemably ‘other’ at an essential level. This created a rigid definition of Native culture broadly and gave rise to false notions of authenticity that haunt us today.

— Scott Manning Stevens (Akwesasne Mohawk), Syracuse, NY

Near East to Far West: Fictions of French and American Colonialism is organized by the Denver Art Museum. It has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom. Research for this exhibition was supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art. It is presented with generous support from Keith and Kathie Finger, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Sotheby's, the donors to the Annual Fund Leadership Campaign, and the residents who support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). Promotional support is provided by 5280 Magazine and CBS Colorado.