George Catlin


Buffalo Hunt, Surround No. 9

Hand Tinted Lithograph

Unframed: 15″ x 20″ Framed: 25″ x 29.75″

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George Catlin (1796-1872)

Born in Pennsylvania in 1796, Catlin was raised in a family which valued education and cultural development yet resided in a rural environment where nature and the frontier were equally influential.
As a young man, Catlin studied and practiced law, as had his father, but his true passion was painting. Although having no formal training in art, his innate talent and warm personality won him favor with the Philadelphia artist community and he soon became recognized as an accomplished portrait painter of the Eastern elite. When, in 1826, he was elected an Academician of the National Academy his future career in this genre was guaranteed.

However, his great determination was to document, in paint, the Indians of the West. It was this inspiration that led him in 1830 to visit St. Louis, then the Gateway to the West, where he was befriended by General William Clark who, as Superintendent of Indian Affairs, “literally ruled the whole West”.

For the next two years Catlin traveled the upper Midwest painting the prominent Indian leaders of the region. The success of this endeavor and the many friendships he had made in St. Louis prompted Pierre Chouteau, then the western manager of the American Fur Company, to invite him to join the first attempt to ascend the Missouri by steamboat.

The trip began in the spring of 1832 when Catlin boarded the steamboat Yellow Stone bound for Fort Union at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. Fort Union was the AFC’s most distant trading post and it was this destination that allowed Catlin to become the first artist of prominence to document the Indians of the American West.

Returning in the fall of 1832, Catlin proceeded to his studio where his sketches, paintings and collected memorabilia were fashioned into an exhibition “The Catlin Indian Gallery” which toured the country, accompanied by lectures from the artist himself.

In 1844 Catlin produced a portfolio of twenty-five of his most interesting pictures in printed tints using the lithographic process and entitled North American Indian PORTFOLIO of Hunting Scenes and Amusements. Six additional prints were added and at least five editions were issued by subscription in the first year.

While Catlin is recognized as the premier painter of the Indians of the West, he worked from the perspective of “ethnographic documentation” declining to embellish his subjects with the emotional romanticism of many later artists. His was an effort to accurately record cultures whose demise by encroaching civilization he was personally witnessing.