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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photography by Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

A Tight Fix—Bear Hunting, Early Winter [The Life of a Hunter: A Tight Fix]

Artist: Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (1819 - 1905)
Date: 1856
40 x 60 in. (101.6 x 152.4 cm)
Framed: 58 1/2 in. × 78 1/4 in. × 7 in.
Medium: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2010.72
Signed: l.r., in red paint: A F Tait / NY 56
On View
Accession Number: 2010.72
Provenancepurchased for $500 by J. Campbell, Pacific Bank, San Francisco, CA, November 1856; Redlands Elk Lodge, Redlands, CA, ca. 1911-1968; (Kennedy Galleries, New York, NY), 1971; Tempel Steel Company, Chicago, IL, 1974; (Szymanski Gallery, Pasadena, CA), 1980; purchased by Richard A. Manoogian [b. 1936], Detroit, MI, 1980; purchased by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, 2004
Label TextWhile A Tight Fix first appears to be an embodiment of American frontier mythology and rugged masculinity, the painting also references tensions and uncertainty over slavery. The man and bear in the foreground are at an impasse—both are injured and neither combatant is winning—and it’s unclear if the second hunter is aiming at the bear or something beyond the frame.

Viewers in mid-nineteenth-century America may have been particularly sensitive to an impasse between white and black fighters. Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait painted the scene during the fierce, but deadlocked war over slavery in the Kansas Territory.