In this small oil, Miller hones in on the dramatic action at the forefront of the work and uses the landscape and the figures’ poses to enact the emotionally charged scene. Miller’s sweeping brushstrokes within the landscape pull the viewer’s eye in a semicircle up and to the right. From the river current, to the windblown grasses, and carried up and over through the ominous arching cloud formation, the landscape hugs the figures and ushers them forward through the painting in the wake of a potential storm. Even the broken, pointed branches peeking out from the water indicate danger.
The figure in yellow, with his fierce expression, tensed shoulders, and readied spear, seems as if he is waiting for someone or something to happen before he will commit to fording the river. Behind him, his companion rides fast toward the river, whether fleeing or pursuing, it seems he will charge through the water at full gallop. In contrast, the white horse gingerly approaches the water, testing it with his front hooves, unconcerned with the action behind him. One interpretation of the scene posits that the two figures are rushing to the water to cover their tracks (Armstrong, 98) while Miller’s text indicates that the figures are returning to camp from a hunt. (Ross, 144)
Emily C. Wilson