George Catlin

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George Catlin
William Fisk - George Catlin - Google Art Project.jpg
George Catlin by William Fisk, 1849
Born(1796-07-26)July 26, 1796
DiedDecember 23, 1872(1872-12-23) (aged 76)
Known for Painting and writing
Spouse(s)Clara Bartlett Gregory

George Catlin (July 26, 1796 – December 23, 1872) was an American painter, author, and traveler, who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West. Travelling to the American West five times during the 1830s, Catlin was the first white man to depict Plains Indians in their native territory. [1]

Native Americans in the United States Indigenous peoples of the United States (except Hawaii)

Native Americans, also known as American Indians, Indigenous Americans and other terms, are the indigenous peoples of the United States, except Hawaii. There are over 500 federally recognized tribes within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. The term "American Indian" excludes Native Hawaiians and some Alaska Natives, while Native Americans are American Indians, plus Alaska Natives of all ethnicities. Native Hawaiians are not counted as Native Americans by the US Census, instead being included in the Census grouping of "Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander".

Western United States Region in the United States

The Western United States is the region comprising the westernmost states of the United States. As European settlement in the U.S. expanded westward through the centuries, the meaning of the term the West changed. Before about 1800, the crest of the Appalachian Mountains was seen as the western frontier. The frontier moved westward and eventually the lands west of the Mississippi River were considered the West.

Plains Indians Native Americans/First Nations peoples of the Great Plains of North America.

Plains Indians, Interior Plains Indians or Indigenous people of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies are the Native American tribes and First Nation band governments who have traditionally lived on the greater Interior Plains in North America. Their historic nomadic culture and development of equestrian culture and resistance to domination by the government and military forces of Canada and the United States have made the Plains Indian culture groups an archetype in literature and art for American Indians everywhere.



Early years

George Catlin signature.svg

George Catlin was born in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. 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 outfits and made quite an impression on Catlin.

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania City and County seat in Pennsylvania, United States

Wilkes-Barre is a city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Luzerne County. It is one of the principal cities in the Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, PA Metropolitan Statistical Area. Located at the center of the Wyoming Valley, it is second in size to the nearby city of Scranton. The Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, PA Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 563,631 as of the 2010 Census, making it the fourth-largest metro/statistical area in the state of Pennsylvania. Wilkes-Barre and the surrounding Wyoming Valley are framed by the Pocono Mountains to the east, the Endless Mountains to the west, and the Lehigh Valley to the south. The Susquehanna River flows through the center of the valley and defines the northwestern border of the city.

Luzerne County, Pennsylvania County in Pennsylvania ----

Luzerne County is a county in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 906 square miles (2,350 km2), of which 890 square miles (2,300 km2) is land and 16 square miles (41 km2) is water. It is Northeastern Pennsylvania's second-largest county by total area. As of the 2010 census, the population was 320,918, making it the most populous county in the northeastern part of the state. The county seat and largest city is Wilkes-Barre. Other populous communities include Hazleton, Kingston, Nanticoke, and Pittston. Luzerne County is included in the Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has a total population of 555,426.

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania, United States

Philadelphia, known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2018 census-estimated population of 1,584,138. Since 1854, the city has been coterminous with Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

Lithograph of Buffalo Harbor by George Catlin, 1825 BuffaloHarborFromTheVillage.jpg
Lithograph of Buffalo Harbor by George Catlin, 1825
Self-portrait, aged 28 Self-portrait by George Catlin. Age 28.jpg
Self-portrait, aged 28

His early work included engravings, drawn from nature, of sites along the route of the Erie Canal in New York State. Several of his renderings were published in one of the first printed books to use lithography, Cadwallader D. Colden'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.

Erie Canal Waterway in New York, USA

The Erie Canal is a canal in New York, United States that is part of the east–west, cross-state route of the New York State Canal System. Originally, it ran 363 miles (584 km) from where Albany meets the Hudson River to where Buffalo meets Lake Erie. It was built to create a navigable water route from New York City and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. When completed in 1825, it was the second longest canal in the world and greatly affected the development and economy of New York, New York City, and the United States.

Cadwallader D. Colden United States Army officer

Cadwallader David Colden was an American politician who served as the 54th Mayor of New York City and a U.S. Representative from New York.

Buffalo, New York City in Western New York

Buffalo is the second largest city in the U.S. state of New York and the largest city in Western New York. As of 2018, the population was 256,304. The city is the county seat of Erie County and a major gateway for commerce and travel across the Canada–United States border, forming part of the bi-national Buffalo Niagara Region.

Following a brief career as an attorney, 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. Spurred by relics brought back by the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition of 18041806 owned by his friend, Charles Willson Peale, and claiming that his interest in America's 'vanishing race' [2] was inspired by a visiting American Indian delegation in Philadelphia, he set out to record the appearance and customs of America's native peoples. [3]

Lewis and Clark Expedition American overland expedition to the Pacific coast

The Lewis and Clark Expedition from May 1804 to September 1806, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, was the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States. It began in Pittsburgh, Pa, made its way westward, and passed through the Continental Divide of the Americas to reach the Pacific coast. The Corps of Discovery was a selected group of US Army volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend Second Lieutenant William Clark.

Charles Willson Peale 18th and 19th-century American painter

Charles Willson Peale was an American painter, soldier, scientist, inventor, politician and naturalist. He is best remembered for his portrait paintings of leading figures of the American Revolution, and for establishing one of the first museums in the United States.

William Clark

George Catlin's travels in North America, 1830-1855 George Catlin's travels in North America, 1830-1855.jpg
George Catlin's travels in North America, 1830–1855
Stu-mick-o-sucks, Buffalo Bull's Back Fat, Head Chief, Blood Tribe, 1832, considered to be Catlin's finest work (Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.) George Catlin - Buffalo Bulls Back Fat - Smithsonian.jpg
Stu-mick-o-súcks, Buffalo Bull's Back Fat, Head Chief, Blood Tribe, 1832, considered to be Catlin's finest work (Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.)

Catlin began his journey in 1830 when he accompanied Governor William Clark on a diplomatic mission up the Mississippi River into Native American 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 more than 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 European culture. He visited eighteen tribes, including the Pawnee, Omaha, and Ponca in the south and the Mandan, Hidatsa, Cheyenne, Crow, Assiniboine, and Blackfeet to the north. There he produced the most vivid and penetrating portraits of his career. During later trips along the Arkansas, Red, and Mississippi rivers, as well as visits to Florida and the Great Lakes, he produced more than 500 paintings and gathered a substantial collection of artifacts.

William Clark American explorer, soldier, Indian agent, and territorial governor

William Clark was an American explorer, soldier, Indian agent, and territorial governor. A native of Virginia, he grew up in prestatehood Kentucky before later settling in what became the state of Missouri. Clark was a planter and slaveholder.

Mississippi River largest river system in North America

The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. Its source is Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and it flows generally south for 2,320 miles (3,730 km) to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. The main stem is entirely within the United States; the total drainage basin is 1,151,000 sq mi (2,980,000 km2), of which only about one percent is in Canada. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth-longest and fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world. The river either borders or passes through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Indigenous peoples of the Americas Pre-Columbian inhabitants of North, Central and South America and their descendants

The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the Pre-Columbian peoples of North, Central and South America and their descendants.

Sha-co-pay, The Six, Chief of the Plains Ojibwa, painted 1832 at Fort Union (Smithsonian American Art Museum) George Catlin - Sha-co-pay, The Six, Chief of the Plains Ojibwa - Google Art Project.jpg
Sha-có-pay, The Six, Chief of the Plains Ojibwa , painted 1832 at Fort Union (Smithsonian American Art Museum)
Wah-ro-nee-sah, The Surrounder, Chief of the Otoe Tribe, 1832 (Smithsonian American Art Museum) George Catlin - Wah-ro-nee-sah, The Surrounder, Chief of the Tribe - Google Art Project.jpg
Wah-ro-née-sah, The Surrounder, Chief of the Otoe Tribe, 1832 (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

When Catlin returned east in 1838, he assembled the paintings and numerous artifacts into his Indian Gallery, and began delivering public lectures that 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. He hung his paintings "salon style"—side by side and one above another. 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 rejected his initial petition to purchase the works.

Pittsburgh City in western Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh is a city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the United States, and is the county seat of Allegheny County. A population of about 301,048 residents live within the city limits, making it the 66th-largest city in the U.S. The metropolitan population of 2,324,743 is the largest in both the Ohio Valley and Appalachia, the second-largest in Pennsylvania, and the 27th-largest in the U.S.

Cincinnati City in Ohio

Cincinnati is a major city in the U.S. state of Ohio, and is the government seat of Hamilton County. Settled in 1788, the city is located at the northern side of the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers, the latter of which marks the state line with Kentucky. The city drives the Cincinnati–Middletown–Wilmington combined statistical area, which had a population of 2,172,191 in the 2010 census making it Ohio's largest metropolitan area. With a population of 296,943, Cincinnati is the third-largest city in Ohio and 65th in the United States. Its metropolitan area is the fastest growing economic power in the Midwestern United States based on increase of economic output and it is the 28th-largest metropolitan statistical area in the U.S. Cincinnati is also within a day's drive of 49.70% of the United States populace.

United States Congress Legislature of the United States

The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the Federal Government of the United States. The legislature consists of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate.

In 1839 Catlin took his collection across the Atlantic for a tour of European capitals. As a showman and entrepreneur, he initially attracted crowds to his Indian Gallery in London, Brussels, and Paris. The French critic Charles Baudelaire remarked on Catlin’s paintings, "He has brought back alive the proud and free characters of these chiefs, both their nobility and manliness." [4]

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. 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, and recreated more than 400 paintings. [5] 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.

The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas, c. 1845 (National Gallery of Art) George Catlin - The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas - Google Art Project.jpg
The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas , c.1845 (National Gallery of Art)

In 1841 Catlin published Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians, in two volumes, with approximately 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). Paintings of his Spanish American Indians are published. [6]

In 1872, Catlin traveled to Washington, D.C. at the invitation of Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian. Until his death later that year in Jersey City, New Jersey, Catlin worked in a studio in the Smithsonian "Castle". In 1879 Harrison’s widow donated the original Indian Gallery, more than 500 works, along with related artifacts, to the Smithsonian.

Certificate to authenticity of one of Catlin's Indian portraits, facsimile Certificate to authenticity of one of Catlin's Indian portraits. Facsimile.jpg
Certificate to authenticity of one of Catlin's Indian portraits, facsimile

The nearly complete surviving set of Catlin's first Indian Gallery, painted in the 1830s, is now part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's collection. The associated Catlin artifacts are in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian. Some 700 sketches are held by the American Museum of Natural History, New York City. Some artifacts from Catlin are in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology collections. The Huntington Library in San Marino, California also holds 239 of Catlin's illustrations of both North and South American Indians, as well as other illustrative and manuscript material by Catlin.

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. [7] Previous recorded white visitors include the Groselliers and Radisson, Father Louis Hennepin, Baron de Lahontan, and others. Lewis and Clark noted the pipestone quarry in their journals in 1805. The fur trader Philander Prescott had written another account of the area in 1831. [8]

Other works

Catlin appears to have written an eccentric book, which was in an eighth edition by 1882, entitled Shut Your Mouth. This is a serious essay suggesting that all manner of ills arise in people who were slack jawed, people who do not routinely keep their mouths closed. The title page of the eighth edition says "by George Catlin, author of 'Notes of Travels Amongst the North-American Indians' Etc., Etc." A facsimile of a signature appears on the book's last page.[ citation needed ]

In it, the author claims that even too much talking is harmful because of the mouth being open for the purpose. "There is no person in society but who will find... improvement in health and enjoyment..." from keeping his or her mouth shut. [9] The work runs to 102 pages. He signs a note at the end of the eighth edition "The Author, Rio Grande, Brazil, 1860".

Family and death

George Linen, Clara Bartlett Gregory Catlin, c. 1840 Clara Bartlett Gregory Catlin, by George Linen (1802-1888).jpg
George Linen, Clara Bartlett Gregory Catlin,c.1840

George Catlin met Clara Bartlett Gregory in 1828 in her hometown of Albany, New York. After their marriage, she accompanied him on one of his journeys west. They eventually had four children. [10] Clara and his youngest son died while visiting Paris in 1845. [11]

Many historians and descendants believe George Catlin had two families; his acknowledged family on the east coast of the United States, but also a family farther west, started with a Native American woman.[ citation needed ]

Catlin died on December 23, 1872, aged 76 years in Jersey City, Hudson County, New Jersey. He is buried on the Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York.


In fiction

Larry McMurtry 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 recreates the time Catlin spent with the Mandan people. The 1970 film A Man Called Horse 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, where he is the subject of the unfinished doctoral dissertation of character Irene America. [13]

Works by Catlin

See also

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  1. "Catlin Virtual Exhibition". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Archived from the original on 25 Sep 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  2. Laurence M. Hauptman; George Hamell (2003). "George Catlin: The Iroquois Origins of His Indian Portrait Gallery". In Alexander Clarence Flick (ed.). New York History: Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association. 84. The Association. p. 125. ...nevertheless, the artist, who viewed himself as a visual historian documenting a "vanishing race," produced a wide array of portraits and landscapes that provide us with a partial glimpse into Indian Country from the late 1820s until the artist's death in 1872.
  3. George Catlin (1842). Letters and Notes on the Customs and Manners of the North American Indians. I. London: Tilt and Bogue, Fleet Street. p. 16.
  4. Eisler, The Red Man's Bones, p. 326.
  5. "George Catlin". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  6. South American Indian paintings by George Catlin. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1992.
  7. "SAAM: George Catlin and His Indian Gallery" . Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  8. "Pipestone County History -- National Register of Historic Places Pipestone, Minnesota Travel Itinerary". Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  9. p. 86, Catlin, George: Keep Your Mouth Shut, eighth edition, 1882, Trubner & Co., London
  10. ScienceViews George Catlin: A Biography. Url visited on 21 March 2012
  11. Christie's: Lotnotes for the painting of Clara Bartlett Gregory Catlin. Url visited on 21 March 2012
  12. "National Rivers Hall of Fame Inductees - National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium". Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  13. "'Shadow Tag,' by Louise Erdrich" . Retrieved 28 April 2018.