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George Catlin

George Catlin

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George Catlin was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 painter
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

, author and traveler who specialized in portraits of Native Americans
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 in the Old West.

Early years


Catlin was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Wilkes-Barre is a city in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, the county seat of Luzerne County. It is at the center of the Wyoming Valley area and is one of the principal cities in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area, which had a population of 563,631 as of the 2010 Census...

. As a child growing up in Pennsylvania, Catlin had spent many hours hunting, fishing, and looking for American Indian artifacts. His fascination with Native Americans was kindled by his mother, who told him stories of the western frontier and how she was captured by a tribe when she was a young girl. Years later, a group of Native Americans came through Philadelphia dressed in their colorful costumes and made quite an impression on Catlin.

Career


His early work included engravings drawn from nature of sites along the route of the Erie Canal
Erie Canal
The Erie Canal is a waterway in New York that runs about from Albany, New York, on the Hudson River to Buffalo, New York, at Lake Erie, completing a navigable water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. The canal contains 36 locks and encompasses a total elevation differential of...

 in New York State. Several of his renderings were published in one of the first printed books to use lithography, Cadwallader D. Colden
Cadwallader D. Colden
Cadwallader David Colden was an American politician.-Life:...

's Memoir, Prepared at the Request of a Committee of the Common Council of the City of New York, and Presented to the Mayor of the City, at the Celebration of the Completion of the New York Canals, published in 1825, with early images of the City of Buffalo
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo is the second most populous city in the state of New York, after New York City. Located in Western New York on the eastern shores of Lake Erie and at the head of the Niagara River across from Fort Erie, Ontario, Buffalo is the seat of Erie County and the principal city of the...

.

Following a brief career as a lawyer, Catlin produced two major collections of paintings of American Indians and published a series of books chronicling his travels among the native peoples of North, Central and South America. Claiming his interest in America’s 'vanishing race' was sparked by a visiting American Indian delegation in Philadelphia, he set out to record the appearance and customs of America’s native peoples.

Lewis and Clark


Catlin began his journey in 1830 when he accompanied General William Clark on a diplomatic mission up the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 into Native American
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 territory. St. Louis became Catlin’s base of operations for five trips he took between 1830 and 1836, eventually visiting fifty tribes. Two years later he ascended the Missouri River
Missouri River
The Missouri River flows through the central United States, and is a tributary of the Mississippi River. It is the longest river in North America and drains the third largest area, though only the thirteenth largest by discharge. The Missouri's watershed encompasses most of the American Great...

 over 3000 km to Fort Union Trading Post, near what is now the North Dakota/Montana border, where he spent several weeks among indigenous people who were still relatively untouched by[Europ]an civilization. He visited eighteen tribes, including the Pawnee, Omaha
Omaha (tribe)
The Omaha are a federally recognized Native American nation which lives on the Omaha Reservation in northeastern Nebraska and western Iowa, United States...

, and Ponca
Ponca
The Ponca are a Native American people of the Dhegihan branch of the Siouan-language group. There are two federally recognized Ponca tribes: the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and the Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma...

 in the south and the Mandan, Hidatsa
Hidatsa
The Hidatsa are a Siouan people, a part of the Three Affiliated Tribes. The Hidatsa's autonym is Hiraacá. According to the tribal tradition, the word hiraacá derives from the word "willow"; however, the etymology is not transparent and the similarity to mirahací ‘willows’ inconclusive...

, Cheyenne
Cheyenne
Cheyenne are a Native American people of the Great Plains, who are of the Algonquian language family. The Cheyenne Nation is composed of two united tribes, the Só'taeo'o and the Tsétsêhéstâhese .The Cheyenne are thought to have branched off other tribes of Algonquian stock inhabiting lands...

, Crow
Crow Nation
The Crow, also called the Absaroka or Apsáalooke, are a Siouan people of Native Americans who historically lived in the Yellowstone River valley, which extends from present-day Wyoming, through Montana and into North Dakota. They now live on a reservation south of Billings, Montana and in several...

, Assiniboine, and Blackfeet
Blackfeet
The Piegan Blackfeet are a tribe of Native Americans of the Algonquian language family based in Montana, having lived in this area since around 6,500 BC. Many members of the tribe live as part of the Blackfeet Nation in northwestern Montana, with population centered in Browning...

 to the north. There, at the edge of the frontier, he produced the most vivid and penetrating portraits of his career. During later trips along the Arkansas
Arkansas
Arkansas is a state located in the southern region of the United States. Its name is an Algonquian name of the Quapaw Indians. Arkansas shares borders with six states , and its eastern border is largely defined by the Mississippi River...

, Red
Red River (Mississippi watershed)
The Red River, or sometimes the Red River of the South, is a major tributary of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers in the southern United States of America. The river gains its name from the red-bed country of its watershed. It is one of several rivers with that name...

 and Mississippi
Mississippi
Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi...

 rivers, as well as visits to Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

 and the Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

, he produced more than 500 paintings and gathered a substantial collection of artifacts.

Indian Gallery


When Catlin returned east in 1838, he assembled the paintings and numerous artifacts into his Indian Gallery, and began delivering public lectures which drew on his personal recollections of life among the American Indians. Catlin traveled with his Indian Gallery to major cities such as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

. He hung his paintings “salon style”—side by side and one above another—to great effect. Visitors identified each painting by the number on the frame as listed in Catlin’s catalogue. Soon afterward he began a lifelong effort to sell his collection to the U.S. government. The touring Indian Gallery did not attract the paying public Catlin needed to stay financially sound, and the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 rejected his initial petition to purchase the works.

In 1839 Catlin took his collection across the Atlantic for a tour of European capitals. As a showman and entrepreneur
Entrepreneur
An entrepreneur is an owner or manager of a business enterprise who makes money through risk and initiative.The term was originally a loanword from French and was first defined by the Irish-French economist Richard Cantillon. Entrepreneur in English is a term applied to a person who is willing to...

, he initially attracted crowds to his Indian Gallery in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

, and Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

. The French critic Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire was a French poet who produced notable work as an essayist, art critic, and pioneering translator of Edgar Allan Poe. His most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal expresses the changing nature of beauty in modern, industrializing Paris during the nineteenth century...

 remarked on Catlin’s paintings, “M. Catlin has captured the proud, free character and noble expression of these splendid fellows in a masterly way.”

Catlin wanted to sell his Indian Gallery to the U.S. government to have his life’s work preserved intact. His continued attempts to persuade various officials in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 to buy the collection failed. In 1852 he was forced to sell the original Indian Gallery, now 607 paintings, due to personal debts. The industrialist Joseph Harrison acquired the paintings and artifacts, which he stored in a factory in Philadelphia, as security.

Catlin spent the last 20 years of his life trying to re-create his collection. This second collection of paintings is known as the "Cartoon Collection," since the works are based on the outlines he drew of the works from the 1830s.

In 1841 Catlin published Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians, in two volumes, with about 300 engravings. Three years later he published 25 plates, entitled Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio, and, in 1848, Eight Years’ Travels and Residence in Europe. From 1852 to 1857 he traveled through South and Central America and later returned for further exploration in the Far West. The record of these later years is contained in Last Rambles amongst the Indians of the Rocky Mountains and the Andes (1868) and My Life among the Indians (ed. by N. G. Humphreys, 1909).

In 1872, Catlin traveled to Washington, D.C. at the invitation of Joseph Henry
Joseph Henry
Joseph Henry was an American scientist who served as the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, as well as a founding member of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science, a precursor of the Smithsonian Institution. During his lifetime, he was highly regarded...

, the first secretary of the Smithsonian
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

. Until his death later that year in Jersey City, New Jersey
Jersey City, New Jersey
Jersey City is the seat of Hudson County, New Jersey, United States.Part of the New York metropolitan area, Jersey City lies between the Hudson River and Upper New York Bay across from Lower Manhattan and the Hackensack River and Newark Bay...

, Catlin worked in a studio in the Smithsonian “Castle.” In 1879 Harrison’s widow donated the original Indian Gallery—more than 500 works—to the Smithsonian.

The nearly complete surviving set of Catlin’s first Indian Gallery, painted in the 1830s, is now part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is a museum in Washington, D.C. with an extensive collection of American art.Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum has a broad variety of American art that covers all regions and art movements found in the United States...

's collection. Some 700 sketches are held by the American Museum of Natural History
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History , located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, United States, is one of the largest and most celebrated museums in the world...

, New York City.

The accuracy of some of Catlin's observations has been questioned. He claimed to be the first white man to see the Minnesota pipestone quarries, and pipestone was named catlinite. Catlin exaggerated various features of the site, and his boastful account of his visit aroused his critics, who disputed his claim of being the first white man to investigate the quarry. Previous recorded white visitors include the Groselliers
Médard des Groseilliers
Médard Chouart des Groseilliers was a French explorer and fur trader in Canada. He is often paired with his brother-in-law Pierre-Esprit Radisson who was about 20 years his junior...

 and Radisson
Pierre-Esprit Radisson
Pierre-Esprit Radisson was a French-Canadian fur trader and explorer. He is often linked to his brother-in-law Médard des Groseilliers who was about 20 years older. The decision of Radisson and Groseilliers to enter the English service led to the formation of the Hudson's Bay Company.Born near...

, Father Louis Hennepin
Louis Hennepin
Father Louis Hennepin, O.F.M. baptized Antoine, was a Catholic priest and missionary of the Franciscan Recollect order and an explorer of the interior of North America....

, Baron LaHonton and others. Lewis and Clark
Lewis and Clark Expedition
The Lewis and Clark Expedition, or ″Corps of Discovery Expedition" was the first transcontinental expedition to the Pacific Coast by the United States. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson and led by two Virginia-born veterans of Indian wars in the Ohio Valley, Meriwether Lewis and William...

 noted the pipestone quarry in their journals in 1805. The fur trader Philander Prescott
Philander Prescott
Philander Prescott . He was a native of Phelps, Ontario County, New York...

 had written another account of the area in 1831.

Family



Many historians and descendants believe George Catlin had two families; his acknowledged family on the east coast of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, but also a family farther west, started with a Native American woman.

Two artists of the Old West related to George Catlin by family bloodlines are Frederic Remington
Frederic Remington
Frederic Sackrider Remington was an American painter, illustrator, sculptor, and writer who specialized in depictions of the Old American West, specifically concentrating on the last quarter of the 19th century American West and images of cowboys, American Indians, and the U. S...

 and Earl W. Bascom
Earl W. Bascom
Earl W. Bascom was an American painter, printmaker, rodeo performer and sculptor, raised in Canada, who portrayed his own experiences cowboying and rodeoing across the American and Canadian West.- Childhood :...

.

Fiction


Larry McMurtry
Larry McMurtry
Larry Jeff McMurtry is an American novelist, essayist, bookseller and screenwriter whose work is predominantly set in either the old West or in contemporary Texas...

 includes Catlin as a character in his The Berrybender Narratives series of novels.
In the historical novel The Children of First Man, James Alexander Thom
James Alexander Thom
James Alexander Thom is an American author, most famous for his works in the Western genre and colonial American history; known for their historical accuracy borne of his painstaking research. Born in Gosport, Indiana, he graduated from Butler University and served in the United States Marine Corps...

 recreates the time Catlin spent with the Mandan people. The 1970 film A Man Called Horse
A Man Called Horse (1970 film)
A Man Called Horse is a 1970 American Western film starring Richard Harris and directed by Elliot Silverstein.-Plot:The film is based on a short story, "A Man Called Horse", published in 1968 in the book Indian Country by Dorothy M. Johnson...

cites Catlin's work as one of the sources for its depiction of Lakota Sioux culture.
Catlin and his work figure repeatedly in the 2010 novel Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich
Karen Louise Erdrich, known as Louise Erdrich, is an author of novels, poetry, and children's books featuring Native American heritage. She is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant writers of the second wave of what critic Kenneth Lincoln has called the Native American Renaissance...

, where he is the subject of the unfinished doctoral dissertation of character Irene America.

See also


  • Elbridge Ayer Burbank
    Elbridge Ayer Burbank
    Elbridge Ayer Burbank was an American artist who sketched and painted more than 1200 portraits of Native Americans from 125 tribes. He studied art in Chicago and in his 30s traveled to Munich, Germany for additional studies with notable German artists...

  • Chief Mahaska
    Chief Mahaska
    Mahaska , or White Cloud, was a chief of the Native American Iowa tribe.-Early life and education:Mahaska was born into the Iowa tribe...

     (Mew-hew-she-kaw)
  • Seth and Mary Eastman
    Seth and Mary Eastman
    Seth Eastman and his second wife Mary Henderson Eastman were instrumental in recording Native American life. Eastman was an artist and West Point graduate who served in the US Army, first as a mapmaker and illustrator. He had two tours at Fort Snelling, Minnesota Territory; during the second,...

  • Paul Kane
    Paul Kane
    Paul Kane was an Irish-born Canadian painter, famous for his paintings of First Nations peoples in the Canadian West and other Native Americans in the Oregon Country....

  • W. Langdon Kihn
    W. Langdon Kihn
    Wilfred Langdon Kihn was a portrait painter and illustrator specializing in portraits of American Indians.He was born in Brooklyn, New York, son of Alfred Charles Kihn and Carrie Lowe Kihn...

  • Charles Bird King
    Charles Bird King
    Charles Bird King is a United States artist who is best known for his portraiture. In particular, the artist is notable for the portraits he painted of Native American delegates coming to Washington D.C., which were commissioned by government's Bureau of Indian Affairs.-Biography:Charles Bird King...

  • Mato-tope
    Mato-tope
    Mato-tope was the second chief of the Mandan tribe to be known to whites as four bears, a name he earned after charging the Assiniboine tribe during battle with the strength of four bears. Four Bears lived in the first half of the 19th century on the upper Missouri River in what is now North Dakota...

  • Joseph Henry Sharp
    Joseph Henry Sharp
    Joseph Henry Sharp was an American painter and a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, of which he is considered the "Spiritual Father". Sharp was one of the earliest European-American artists to visit Taos, New Mexico, which he saw in 1893 with John Hauser when he visited in 1893...

  • John Mix Stanley
    John Mix Stanley
    John Mix Stanley was an artist-explorer, an American painter of landscapes, and Native American portraits and tribal life. Born in the Finger Lakes region of New York, he started painting signs and portraits as a young man, but in 1842 traveled to the American West to paint Native American life...


External links




Sources