Whether they depicted episodes from history and literature or scenes of everyday life, the narrative painters of the 19th century often found formal inspiration in Renaissance and Old Master art. Many 19th-century American poets, playwrights, and novelists wrote about Indians and the western frontier, and narrative painters mined their works for subjects.
And he rushed into the wigwam,
Saw the old Nokomis slowly
Rocking to and fro and moaning,
Saw his lovely Minnehaha
Lying dead and cold before him,
And his bursting heart within him
Uttered such a cry of anguish,
That the forest moaned and shuddered,
That the very stars in heaven
Shook and trembled with his anguish
Then he sat down, still and speechless,
On the bed of Minnehaha,
At the feet of Laughing Water,
At those willing feet, that never
More would lightly run to meet him,
Never more would lightly follow.
With both hands his face he covered,
Seven long days and nights he sat there,
As if in a swoon he sat there,
Speechless, motionless, unconscious
Of the daylight or the darkness.
–Excerpt from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha, 1855