George Catlin

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GEORGE CATLIN, American (1796 - 1872)

Portrait of George Catlin Catlin known as one of America's foremost painters of Native American life.  He began his professional life as an attorney; however, inspired by a visiting American Indian delegation in Pennsylvania, he left his career in law after only two years to record the culture and countenance of America's native populations. Catlin began his quest in 1830, following the trail of  Lewis and Clark.  It was his first of five major trips made over the next six years, during which the artist visited fifty tribes. Two years later, in 1838, he traveled to Fort Union, spending several weeks observing eighteen more tribes of indigenous people.  This period produced what are considered to be some of his most impressive and profound portraits. Later excursions along the Arkansas, Red and Mississippi rivers resulted in over 500 more paintings and a monumental collection of Native American artifacts.

When Catlin returned east in 1838, he assembled his Indian Gallery, a touring exhibit which brought his paintings and artifacts to major cities such as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and New York. The tours were well-received; however, not yielding a sustainable income.  When Congress declined to purchase the collection he then toured Europe, stopping in cultural hubs including London, Brussels and Paris.

In 1841 Catlin published Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians in two volumes which was profusely illustrated with Catlin's illustrations of Indian life.  Three years later he published the North American Indian Portfolio, Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America.The collection of hand colored folio size lithographs depicted ceremonial dances, games and hunting scenes that Catlin had witnessed first hand. 

In 1872, he was invited to Washington, D.C., by Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian, where he worked in a studio in the Smithsonian Castle, the present day site of the Smithsonian Institution Building, up until his death later that same year.  The majority of the exhibit is now part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's collection, while more than 700 sketches reside at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.