A.D.M. Cooper

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Astley David Middleton Cooper (American, 1856-1924) noted painter & illustrator, was San Jose, California’s most famous artist. Cooper is known for his depictions of Native American Indians that he lived with and learned from in his early twenties, as well as landscapes, portraits and also historical depictions. One of his most famous Native American Indian paintings was “Burning Arrow” 1900 (AKA “The Burning Arrow or Flaming Arrow”)—See history of the painting below.

Cooper studied European art at Washington University in St. Louis. He illustrated for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and later opened his first art studio in San Francisco by the time he was twenty-four. He also was commissioned to paint an official portrait of President Ulysses S. Grant. By the early 1880’s, Cooper’s paintings were being marketed and sold throughout the United States and Europe. Over the course of his life, he painted over 1,000 pieces, and his paintings now command very high prices. After a long battle with tuberculosis in 1924, Cooper died at the age of sixty-seven.

“Burning Arrow”

The scene depicts a group of Sioux Indians signaling a far-off Indian camp of their movements with a flaming arrow during the time of the Great Sioux War of 1876-77 (AKA “The Black Hills War”) which involved the combined forces of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes. The arrow is taken, dipped in fat and then after is has been lighted, it is shot ablaze into the air—with different directions having different meanings. The war’s most famous battle was the “Battle of Little Big Horn” (known to the Lakota as the “Battle of the Greasy Grass”) where the combined tribes fought and won a crushing victory over the 7th Calvary Regiment of the United States Army led by Gen. George A. Custer and his Battalion on from June 25-26, 1876 (commonly known as “Custer’s Last Stand”).

From research, Cooper first exhibited his large painting of “Burning Arrow” (9’ x 12’) beginning on January 31, 1900 at the Exhibition Hall (2nd floor) of the Emporium and Golden Rule Bazaar in San Francisco and from their old advertisement in the The San Francisco Call newspaper, Pg. 5, dated Wednesday, January 31, 1900, they stated: “The Burning Arrow”—a realistic painting of an episode of the Sioux-Custer war, by A.D.M. Cooper, a well-known painter of Indian pictures—on free exhibition to-day and until further notice in Exhibition Hall, second floor. The canvas is 9x12 feet in size. Aside from its artistic merits, it will be of special interest to every boy and girl who is studying the history of this country.

But probably what is most interesting from research, is that the painting was also exhibited concurrently with the Pan American Exposition in 1901, Buffalo, NY in June of that year at H.A. Meldrum Company’s Free Art Gallery in Buffalo. The “Burning Arrow” painting at that time was in The Lincoln Collection, for Mr. Alonzo Lincoln who was an avid art collector and also a concessionaire at the Pan Am Expo. Alonzo Lincoln owned and ran the concession building of Egyptian architecture called “Cleopatra’s Temple”, at the north end of the midway. The temple exhibit featured many paintings illustrating events in Cleopatra’s life as the Egyptian Queen, culminating with another famous Cooper painting, the masterpiece titled “Cleopatra”, in which she is shown surrounded by her oriental splendor in a beautiful pose, and displaying her charms in order to captivate Anthony. Cooper originally used six live Native American Indian models for his painting “Burning Arrow”—Six of whom were prominent and well known Sioux Indians who participated at the Indian Congress at the southern most end of the Midway at the Pan Am Expo and are depicted in the painting (along with two background Sioux Indians), and they are listed as follows, starting at the top going clockwise: The Indian firing the arrow is ‘Bull Head’ (son of the famous ‘Sitting Bull’), standing with his back to the fire is ‘Chief Hard Heart’ noted Sioux warrior, on the ground sitting watching the arrow’s flight is ‘Sitting Bear’, while ‘Lone Wolf’, ‘Buffalo Head’ and ‘Standing Bear’ are also depicted (two background Indians were unnamed). Many of Alonzo Lincoln’s paintings in his collection, including “Burning Arrow”, were later exhibited and made available for sale in Philadelphia later that year on November 1, 1901 at the Gimbal Brothers Department Store (4th Floor, for the paltry sums of $25-$500 each).

Over 700 Native American Indians representing 42 distinct North American tribes took an active part in the Indian Congress at the Pan Am Exposition. The painting was also exhibited from November 14-15, 1904, at the Frederick Loeser & Co. in the Recital Hall on the 4th floor of their retail establishment in Brooklyn, NY. In February of 1905, Cooper decided to move out west to California and he sold the entire contents of his studio at a group exhibit & auction at the Lafayette Square Art Galleries in Brooklyn, NY—31 oil paintings in all were sold in the evening after the exhibition February 10, including “Burning Arrow”, the highlight of the show. By September of 1905, his famous masterpiece “Burning Arrow” was then valued at $25,000. Cooper was known to have painted a few versions of this particular scene over his career, and one such later version, a 1916 oil painting went through auction back in 2013 and sold for $7,250.00. Another source stated that the painting was 8’ x 10’ in size (above 9’ x 12’ size was probably due to framed size).

(Written by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, meibohmfinearts.com. Sources furnished upon request.)