Kenneth Riley (1919-2015) Returning Scout 32 x 52in (Painted in 1979.)

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Lot 90
Kenneth Riley
(1919-2015)
Returning Scout 32 x 52in

Sold for US$ 75,000 inc. premium
Kenneth Riley (1919-2015)
Returning Scout
signed, dated and inscribed 'Kenneth / Riley / 79 / NAWA' (lower right)
oil on canvas
32 x 52in
Painted in 1979.

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Sale, Texas Art Gallery, Dallas, Texas, December 4, 1982.
    Acquired by the present owner from the above.

    Literature
    S.H. McGarry, Honoring The Western Tradition: The L.D. "Brink" Brinkman Collection, Kerrville, Texas, 2003, p. 144, illustrated.

    Inspired by the pages of Life magazine and The Saturday Evening Post, which reproduced some of his favorite illustrations by Norman Rockwell and John Falter, Kenneth Riley enrolled for his first semester at Kansas City Art Institute in 1938, training under Thomas Hart Benton and others. 1 His first illustration job found him while enlisted in the Coast Guard in the early 1940s, working for the public relations division he became a combat artist. His subjects were those of heroism and grief – the trials of war witnessed while at sea.2 Upon his return to civilian life, by 1948 he secured employment as an illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post which eventually led in 1962 to a noteworthy commission from the Army and Air National Guard to produce a series of four works, one of which detailing the Battle of Bunker Bill, titled The Whites of Their Eyes, was eventually acquired by former president John F. Kennedy and is now on view at the Kennedy Library and Museum. Three decades later Riley's, fascination with historical, wartime subject matter endured as inspiration for Returning Scout.

    Established as an accomplished historical painter by 1964, Riley's friend John Clymer and contemporary Robert Lougheed, were moving West to foster their careers as distinguished Western painters, prompting Riley to consider the same path. With a market keen to collect the genre and fortified by the establishment of a group of artists called the Cowboy Artists of America (CAA) finding commercial success, Riley joined the ranks of Western painters cementing themselves in the local contemporary Western art scene, settling in Tucson, Arizona.3 The period that followed marked a shift in his working method, taking his head out of literary sources and archives which he previously relied on to visualize his subjects. Instead, Riley composed field sketches and relied on his first-hand observation to inspire the Western paintings that defined the latter half of his career.4

    The present work likely depicts a scene during the Apache wars. This period of armed conflict between the U.S. Army and native Apache tribesmen spanned from about 1849 to 1886, with lesser conflict continuing through the turn of the 20th century. As Western settlers began to inhabit the expanses of land previously belonging to the Native Americans during this period, many deadly battles ensued over these contested territories. Among the many tactics employed by the U.S. Army were the recruitment of allied Indian scouts to assist them in rounding up members of the perceived rebellion for relocation to Indian reservations. The artist wrote to L.D. Brinkman on one occasion about the historical narrative which inspired the present work: "Arizona was locale for the last of the major horse cavalry campaigns in the United States. One of the unique facets was the use of Apache scouts to help track down their own people in that war . . . It seemed worthy of a painting that portrayed this relationship and setting where it could have occurred."5

    Returning Scout pictures a U.S. Army camp attended by soldiers as well as these allied Indians. Descending from the upper right corner of the composition, three Indian scouts make their way back to camp, following two soldiers down the mesa. Uniformed men are seen reviewing documents, likely maps which delineate their territories. A man stands at center greeting his comrades who have returned from the day's work. The uniformed U.S. militia, distinguished by their knee-high leather boots, striped trousers and cowboy hats, stand in contrast to the allied local Indians who retain traditional head dressings but have adopted the same conservative Western clothing—long sleeve shirts, vests and slacks.

    Riley was an expert draughtsman producing numerous studies and drawings during the different excursions he continued throughout his long career. In letters to L.D. Brinkman, expressing his gratitude to the esteemed collector for loaning works to his solo exhibition at the Eiteljorg Museum in 1993, Riley decorated the margin of his note with a quick figure study of an Indian warrior. The illustration is an affectionate glimpse into the images that filled Riley's imagination and the patrons who were grateful to receive them. Riley spent his career enthralled by the people of history, a characteristic mirrored by the monumental Western art collector that was L.D. Brinkman.

    1 S.H. McGarry, West of Camelot: The Historical Paintings of Kenneth Riley, Tucson, Arizona, 1993, p. 37.
    2 Ibid, p. 88.
    3 Ibid, p. 58.
    4 Ibid, p. 108.
    5 Kenneth Riley, unpublished letter, 8 April 1990.
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