November 20, 2014 —
"Ramona and Alessandro on The Narrow Trail" by N.C. Wyeth sells for $665,000 ($550,000 plus buyer's premium) at a Sotheby's auction of American art in New York.
Oil on hardboard, 25x16¾ inches, 1939.
The publishing company, Little, Brown and Co. of Boston, commissioned this work and other pieces from the artist in 1939 to illustrate its 1939 edition of the novel, "Ramona,"
which was still a big seller more than five decades after Helen Hunt Jackson wrote it.
Although Jackson intended for her novel to stir public interest in the mistreatment of Native Americans, it had a different effect. Its initial publication coincided
with the rise of the railroads in Southern California, a time when the Southern Pacific and others were heavily promoting tourism in order to increase ridership and
expand the population. Intrigued by the romance of "Old California" as depicted by Jackson, Eastern readers sought out the "real" Ramona (not quite grasping
she was fictional) and the places described in the book (ditto) — places like the Del Valle family's Rancho Camulos, thought to be the "Home of Ramona" on the basis of Jackson having
visited the ranch in 1882. During her stay in Los Angeles that year, Jackson was hosted by Antonio F. and Mariana Coronel, friends of the Del Valles, who gave her the idea of using
Camulos as a principal backdrop for her novel.
Wyeth's "Ramona and Alessandro on The Narrow Trail" is reproduced opposite page 234 in the 1939 edition. At this point in the story, the title character and her lover flee into the mountains of San Bernardino.
this section of the novel.) If Wyeth's mountains look more like Arizona than Southern California, it could relate to the fact that Wyeth (Oct. 22, 1882 - Oct. 19, 1945)
was an East Coaster who cowboyed in Colorado and traveled throughout Arizona during his brief Western period in the first decade of the 20th Century before returning east in 1908
and settling in Pennsylvania.
The Sotheby's catalog listing for this work reads as follows:
By 1939 when the present work was painted, N.C. Wyeth was among the best-known artists in America, having
received attention for his illustrations of literary classics such as Robert Louis Stevenson's
Treasure Island (1911) and James Fennimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans (1919) as well as periodicals including Harper's Weekly and Scribner's. The present work was painted as an illustration for the 1939 edition of Helen Hunt Jackson's novel
Ramona, first published in 1884. It portrays a scene from the beginning of Chapter 12, when Ramona and Alessandro,
two Native American lovers, flee into the San Bernardino Mountains, having been driven from their homeland by the
westward advance of settlers. Wyeth depicts Alessandro leading Ramona on horseback through a steep narrow
mountain pass with his own horse trailing behind. The emotion in Ramona's expression conveys the hardship faced
by Native Americans in Southern California during this period, paying homage to the author's original intentions for the
Ms. Jackson began her campaign on behalf of Native Americans in 1881 with A Century of Dishonor, a nonfiction treatise intended to expose the U.S. Government's mistreatment of the country's indigenous people. Despite
distributing the book to every member of Congress, little political action was taken. Jackson wrote the fictional
Ramona to raise awareness among all Americans, hoping the romanticized tale Ramona and Alessandro would have
similar impact to that of Harriet Beecher Stowe's
Uncle Tom's Cabin. It became one of the most widely read books of the time, inspiring pilgrimages to many of the sites in Southern California depicted in the story.
The seller of "Ramona and Alessandro on The Narrow Trail" in the 2014 Sotheby's auction was the Hachette Book Group, which is the successor company to Little, Brown and Co.
Formed in 1837, Little, Brown and Co. was acquired in 1968 by Time Inc.; in 2006, Hachette acquired the Time Warner Book Group. Hachette Book Group is
owned by Hachette Livre, the largest publishing company in France; Hachette Livre is a wholly owned subsidiary of Lagardère Group, an
€8 billion multimedia
company based in Paris (as of 2014).