Critical Essay 3: Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait’s “The Life of a Hunter: A Tight Fix”

Last summer when I went to the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, I came across a piece of American History that I can remember to this day, will hold my attention. I saw one of the best paintings I think that I have ever seen before in my life.

The Painting is Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait’s “The Life of a Hunter: A Tight Fix.”

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The painting is made with oil on canvas and is 40 inches by 60 inches. The painting was completed in 1856.

The photo above does the work no justice what so ever. The level of detail put into this painting would, in my opinion, place it on par with the level of realism of a slightly older film camera. And that is saying something very significant! At first I thought that it was a photograph, but the cameras at that time were not capable of such color photos, but it still had the initial perception of a photograph. Once I read the description and saw that it was an oil painting my jaw practically dropped to the floor. I could not believe what I was seeing.

Not only is the painting a result of a masterfully skilled painter, it’s content is just as significant.

During the time that Arthur was creating his work, slavery was a largely violent thing going on. With the civil war just around the corner about five years ahead, we can see this influence in this piece. Not saying the bear is supposed to be an african slave, but the bear is very dark and it could easily be argued that Arthur is implying the threat he feels from them. That is still up for debate and questioning. This piece also displays the American hunter as the rugged man that he was, trying to catch enough food for his family to survive the harsh winters.

Another thing that this piece accomplishes is its utilization of principles and elements of art. It uses atmospheric perspective extremely well, the idea that things closer to us are more detailed and more saturated and things far away have less detail and are less saturated. It also implements high amounts of contrast to create focal points and places that will draw the eye such as the dark black bear surrounded by white snow.

This painting does everything that one would expect from a famous painting. It is skillfully painted, contextually significant, and utilizes the basic principles and elements of art. I personally would love to, for one paint with the precision that Arthur can, and also be able to see this painting again.

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