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Dance in a Subterranean Roundhouse at Clear Lake, California
by Jules Tavernier
1878
Marguerite and Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2016
2016.135
Episode 7 / 2016

...this recently discovered tour de force by Jules Tavernier is a celebration of indigenous life on the land..."

The very best acquisitions transform the gallery in which they are hung, altering traditional storylines and challenging inherited history. Hanging in a gallery of grand-scale landscapes that glorify the pristine American wilderness, this recently discovered tour de force by Jules Tavernier is a celebration of indigenous life on the land. Capturing a sacred ritual performed by the Pomo Indians in their underground roundhouse at Clear Lake, California, north of San Francisco, the artist reveals the rich culture of the tribe and, at the same time, suggests their inevitable demise in the face of white settlement.

Trained in Paris, Tavernier immigrated to the United States in 1871 where he devoted his skills to portraying Plains Indians in the American West before settling in San Francisco. He received his most important commission from the city's major banker, Tiburcio Parrott. In 1876, Parrott was visited by his Parisian business associate Baron Edmond de Rothschild. Parrott took his guest to Clear Lake, where he was able to obtain entry to witness the dance ritual. Hoping to engage Rothschild in his venture to buy up the mineral-rich lands in the region, which the tribe had inhabited for generations, Parrott asked Tavernier to commemorate this event in a major painting as a gift for Rothschild.

The artist spent two years creating his masterwork, developing a composition of nearly 100 figures, including the two young Pomo male dancers, who enact a coming-of-age ritual. The dancers are surrounded by the tribe and their white visitors, including Parrott and Rothschild. Thus, Tavernier captures the very moment when the white settlers laid claim to the tribal lands. With brilliant technical finesse, he renders the dimly lit interior using highly controlled tonal variation and flashes of color to enliven the scene. Upon its completion, Parrott presented the painting to Rothschild, where it remained in his family until its arrival at the Met. With the addition of this work, a new narrative is introduced—the ancient presence of the Native American on the land is disrupted by the settlers' belief in their right to ownership of that land.

Elizabeth Kornhauser
Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture
The American Wing
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