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The Prairie on Fire

A work made of oil on canvas.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of oil on canvas.




Alvan Fisher
American, 1792–1863

About this artwork

Alvan Fisher was a pioneering American landscapist whose work offered an important precedent for the Hudson River School. This painting depicts a subject from James Fenimore Cooper’s 1827 novel The Prairie, the third of the five Leatherstocking Tales. In this scene, Natty Bumppo, the hero of the series, has created a firebreak to protect the story’s protagonists. As a Romantic-era artist, Fisher preferred such dramatic episodes, which involved striking contrasts between light and dark. Unlike contemporaneous illustrations of the scene, which give little sense of setting, in this version the figures are dwarfed by nature, and the prairie grasses are exquisitely rendered, underscoring the landscape’s beauty as well as its dangers. The work thus suggests the significance of the prairie in Cooper’s text. Perhaps for this reason, the author declared that it was “the only good illustration he had seen from his books.”


On View, Gallery 171


Arts of the Americas


Alvan Fisher


The Prairie on Fire


United States (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Oil on canvas


Signed, dated, and inscribed on verso, prior to lining: Painted by Alvan Fisher 1827


61 × 83.8 cm (24 × 33 in.)

Credit Line

Through prior acquisition of the George F. Harding Fund; purchased with funds provided by Jamee J. and Marshall Field; Americana Endowment Fund

Reference Number


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