Artist’s Work, Out of Attics, Goes to Walls of a Museum

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DENVER — Charles Deas is the kind of artist who fuels the fantasies of people watching “Antiques Roadshow.” His story makes you want to go take another look at those musty old paintings in grandma’s den.

Deas got lost.

In the mid-1800s, Deas (pronounced days) specialized in portraits and multilayered scenes of life on the frontier as American Indian and European heritage collided and intermingled. He painted brilliantly and prolifically for a decade and became, briefly, a sensation on the New York art scene.

Then, at age 29, he went insane. He lived out the rest of his life in mental institutions, and by the time he died, at age 48, right after the Civil War, he and his paintings had fallen into obscurity. But dozens of them, it turns out, were only in hiding, and now they are considered national treasures, painted by a doomed artist with a back story made for Hollywood and an eye that captured a fast-fading West.

And thereby hangs the tale of new exhibition at the Denver Art Museum, the first-ever retrospective of Deas’s work, assembled by an art history professor, Carol C. Clark, who found herself compelled by the art, and the story of Deas’s life, and finally by the hunt for his lost works....
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