Haviland Plate with Portrait of American Indian, n.d.Percy Gray (American, 1869-1952)
Like many of his early 20th-century contemporaries, Percy Gray revered nature and its positive influence, clung to a belief in the virtues of the past, and was intent on maintaining a simple life in the midst of a complex age. For Gray, these ideals were exemplified by the Native Americans he painted, the principles of the American Arts and Crafts movement that he contributed to, and by his own desire to preserve Cali fornia’s natural beauty, both in reality and in his art.
Gray did not begin his career by painting the landscapes for which he later became known. After his initial study at the California School of Design in San Francisco, he put his skills to work as an illustrator. In 1895 he moved to New York and pursued the same line of work while continuing his art training at the Art Students League and with William Merritt Chase. He stayed in the city for the next 11 years.
In New York, Gray began a series of portraits depicting Native American leaders and chiefs. He eventually produced more than 20 such portraits, the majority of which were completed after he returned to California. Most were watercolors on paper; only one, which is in the Crocker collection and shown here, was on porcelain.