"Long Jakes" is also a portrait, but it's a full-figure rendering of a trapper on horseback. The composition is tremendous, with the horse forming an arch across the bottom of the picture. Jakes himself is conveyed as an upwardly thrusting diagonal.

The painting probably gained its greatest exposure just a few years ago, when it was central to a questionable partial trade between the DAM and the privately held Anschutz Collection. The DAM gave half ownership of "Long Jakes" to Anschutz in exchange for the museum getting half ownership of "Cowboy Singing," by Thomas Eakins. The Eakins was in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which sold it to Anschutz in order to purchase one of the artist's great masterpieces, "The Gross Clinic." The deal struck me as strange at the time, but understandable given the DAM's limited resources for new acquisitions versus the vast sums associated with Anschutz (see "Cowboy Singing," May 1, 2008). In response to the situation, the Association of Art Museum Directors issued a letter in 2009 against the idea of "fractional deaccessions" — though the group has never criticized complete deaccessions, which seems a little hypocritical. The good news is that "Long Jakes" is still in Denver, and the DAM gained an Eakins, or at least half of one.

One of the newest paintings in the show is also one of the strangest. Titled "A Solitary Indian, Seated on the Edge of a Bold Precipice," it's practically a pinup with a lot of erotic content. The well-built Indian, who's stripped to the waist and has one bare foot hanging down into the air, gazes off into the distance with what could only be called a come-hither look. It was done shortly before Deas left St. Louis and returned to New York. Though Deas had earlier shown an interest in the virility of the Indians, none of the other paintings has this kind of subtext — not even the lacrosse scene, where the players are rendered as pure beefcake.

"Long Jakes," by Charles Deas, oil on canvas.
"Long Jakes," by Charles Deas, oil on canvas.

Details

Through November 28, Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org.For a slide show of this exhibit, go to westword.com/slideshow.

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Back in New York in 1847, Deas re-enrolled in the National Academy of Design, but there was a definite change in his work that prefigured his mental illness: He switched from Western scenes to religious topics. The next year, at the age of 29, he entered the Bloomingdale Asylum and would also be treated at another mental health institution, Sanford Hall. He spent the rest of his life in treatment, dying in 1867 at Bloomingdale, when he was only 48.

Deas's life makes an interesting yarn, but his paintings are the heart of his story.

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