For a decade or more Winold Reiss has dedicated his talents to
creating a pictorial epic of the North American Indian which shall
preserve the distinctive characteristics of these fast vanishing tribes.
The Indians of the Northwest have been his favorite subject for research
and the large number of portraits and figure compositions in color and
in line which he has made of the Blackfeet Indians constitutes a veritable
saga of the tribe.
Mr. Reiss has brought to his task an unusual and paradoxical combination
of talents...his interest in racial type and character and his
unfailing eye for the decorative aspects of his subjects. Indianologists
commend Mr. Reiss's studies of the aborigines for their ethnological
accuracy and the knowledge of custom and folklore which they display;
and those in search of decorative art which shall also have an authentic
American note are very apt to commission Mr. Reiss for the carrying
out of their ideas.
It is perhaps another paradox that a painter of German birth should
have been a pathfinder in discovering the decorative possibilities of the
North American Indian. Mr. Reiss was born in the Black Forest and
received his training as an artist with his father, Fritz Reiss, well known
genre painter specializing in the peasant types of the Black Forest, and
with Franz von Stuck at the Royal Academy in Munich.
In common with many other German boys whose imagination had
been stirred by Fennimore Cooper's novels, Mr. Reiss had a romantic
interest in the North American aborigines. He wanted above all else
to paint them. But his romantic imaginings were tempered by an
artistic training which demanded accurate observation of character.
And so he decided to come to America in 1913 for the express purpose
of studying the North American Indian in his native habitat and also
to introduce modern decorative art, which, although a flourishing and
accepted style in Munich and Vienna, where it had its origin, was
practically unknown in the United States. The Crillon Restaurant,
which Mr. Reiss decorated in 1920, was the first demonstration of the
decorative possibilities of the new style. Since that time Mr. Reiss
has been one of the outstanding pioneers in introducing a modern decor
which should harmonize with American architecture and express
It is true, of course, that American artists had painted the American
Indian before Mr. Reiss dedicated his talents to interpreting their
racial characteristics and customs. But in the majority of cases the
point of view had been either purely ethnological or sentimentally
inaccurate. Mr. Reiss was the first painter who saw the Indian
abstractly as subject for art, who recognized classic monumentality
in the manner in which he folded his blanket about him and in the proud
carriage of his head. His pictures have helped to restore and give
reality to the legend of the noble red man and have made him an epic
figure among the lost and vanishing races of mankind. He has been able
to achieve this quality of universality without sacrificing his realistic
approach. Mr. Reiss believes that the epic of the American Indian
should be preserved in murals for future generations on the walls of
our public buildings and schools.
Since 1933, Mr. Reiss has been assistant professor at the College of
Fine Arts of New York University. He also conducts a summer school
at Glacier National Park. His most recent decorations are mosaic
murals designed for the Cincinnati Union Terminal Building, depicting
the history of American railroad building and the extension of the
by HELEN APPLETON READ
* Mr. Reiss died on August 29, 1953.