This delicate, and surely fanciful, sketch of topless Indian girls frolicking near their camp was included in the set of watercolors for William T. Walters. Walters, who would later become a prominent collector of contemporary French paintings, surely would have recognized the allusion to Rococo paintings of amorous couples swinging. The delicate pastel shades of pink and blue and the sinuous curves of the girl’s thick hair and heavily fringed skirt also evoke the stylistic qualities of Rococo in a new world setting. The theme of European conventions, as embodied in art styles, as well as manners and practices, translated to a western setting recurs throughout Miller’s paintings. Here it is expressed most simply in the subject of a young woman’s resourcefulness: “springing up to the branch of a tree;–sustaining herself by the arms and thereby forming an impromptu swing.”
This memorable scene was one of ten that were reproduced as chromolithographs in the publications of travel-writer Charles Watkins Webber. Indian Girls Swinging illustrated his second volume, The Hunter Naturalist: Wild Scenes and Song-Birds (1853). Print historian Warder H. Cadbury notes that the first edition of this volume reproduces Miller’s painting as it appeared in the Walters collection, but some subsequent printings clothe the young woman in a blouse.
The artist; William T. Walters, Baltimore, MD; present owner by gift