The Triumph of Tira is a symbolic portrait of Mae West referencing the actress’s role of Tira the lion tamer in the 1933 film I’m No Angel. One of Indiana’s early word paintings, the work’s title, painted in the artist’s characteristic stenciled letters, appears below the four circles that dominate the canvas, and above a border of broad red danger stripes. Each of the four circles encloses a square or diamond, then another circle, and then a star. At the center of each is a three-letter word. The words, “cat,” “sex,” “men” and “law,” reference subjects specific to the film, yet can also be interpreted as signaling multiple other meanings.
Although Indiana referred to the work as a companion to his painting The Sweet Mystery (1959–60), it is compositionally closer to The American Dream #1 (1961), which, like The Triumph of Tira, is dominated by four circles enclosing five-pointed stars in successive frames. Indiana also cited West, “the most American bloom to have flowered on this ‘scene,’” as his model for The American Dream #1 in a 1961 Museum of Modern Art questionnaire. Furthermore, both West and Tira were women who escaped their humble origins to achieve success and their version of the American Dream.