|The exhibition continues until 23 June 2013|
George Catlin: American Indian Portraits is an exhibition about both an artist and the various American Indian tribes he encountered as he travelled across America.
It's also a story about ethnic cleansing and an Exhibition in London a very long time ago.
It's quite unlike most portrait exhibitions as these people were not painted in a studio - they were painted in their encampments.
This is a complete one-off exhibition. Many of the images have never been seen in the UK before and it will be a very long time (if at all) before they are ever seen again. I've included a sample of what you can see in my review below.
I'm guessing it's an exhibition which will appeal to people of all ages but that it might be particularly interesting for families with children and those people whose families have had experience of enforced migration.
The exhibition continues until 23 June and admission is free.
I recommend this exhibition - it's both a learning curve and a very interesting experience.
About George Catlin
|George Catlin by William Fisk, 1849|
First of all he took it upon himself to make an ethnographic record of the native American people.
He carried to the field two contemporary European philosophies: a belief in the virtue of "natural man" (man living in a natural environment), and a conviction that the scientific recording of natural phenomena was a key to progress.His traveled west of the Mississippi five times in total in the 1830s to paint the Plains Indians and their way of life. His aim was to make a record before it was irrevocably altered.
Virginia Historial Society
He was travelling and working at a critical point in the history of the Plains Indians.
The process of cultural transformation originally proposed by George Washington and translated into law by President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act required all native Americans living in the Southeast to resettle west of the Mississippi River. It was an act which today would be referred to as "ethnic cleansing" and/or "forced migration". Some would refer to it as an act of genocide given the deaths en route.
The tribes affected were the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole who had been living as autonomous nations in the American "Deep South". The enforced march of some 13,000 people saw 4,000 die along the way to Oklahoma and is known as the "Trail of Tears"
In total Catlin met some 50 different indigenous groups or indian "nations" who lived west of the Mississippi River from present day North Dakota to Oklahoma.
On his travels he painted, he collected artefacts associated with their way of life and he wrote about what he found.
|Portraits painted by George Catlin|
|Hee-oh'ks-te-kin, Rabbit's Skin Leggings|
oil on canvas29 x 24 in. (73.7 x 60.9 cm)
and Shon-ta-yi-ga, Little Wolf, a Famous Warrior (1844)
oil on canvas29 x 24 in. (73.7 x 60.9 cm)
A Grand Pawnee warrior
Note the development of the face relative to the rest of his body and clothing
Sometimes - as in this instance - he never finished the portrait
|Facsimile of Catlin's Gallery of North American Indians|
Egyptian hall, Piccadilly, London
Catlin had hoped for support for his endeavours throughout his career. He lobbied the government for patronage while undertaking his trips and then tried to persuade them to buy his collection off him when
In order to remain solvent, Catlin took to touring with his Indian Gallery during the late 1830s and 1840s. He took it around the States and also toured Europe with it - and acted as an advocate of the Indian way of life. In doing so, he displayed his Gallery at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly in 1843.
In 1852, he was severely in debt and was forced to sell the original Indian Gallery.
In due course the Gallery made its way to the Smithsonian and so Catlin's original aim of creating a national historical record was achieved. Interestingly the Smithsonian acquired it after they had a big fire which would have destroyed it had they taken it when Catlin originally wanted them to. Maybe it was fate?
|Dr Stephanie Pratt, Curator of the Exhibition, |
Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Plymouth and
Tribal member of the Crow Creek Dakota Sioux Nation
- gazing at the portrait of one of her ancestors.
|Curators: Dr Stephanie Pratt (left) and |
Dr Joan Carpenter Troccolli (right)
(Founding Director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum)
co-authors of the accompanying book 'George Catlin: American Indian Portraits'
The Smithsonian has a considerable amount of material on George Catlin and his Indian Gallery.
If you can't get to the exhibition, take a look at some of these images painted by George Catlin on the Smithsonian website
- "Brick Kilns," Clay Bluffs 1900 Miles above St. Louis
- "Smoking Horses," a Curious Custom of the Sauk and Fox
- A Choctaw Woman
- A Seminole Woman
- A'h-sha-la-cóots-ah, Mole in the Forehead, Chief of the Republican Pawnee
- A'h-tee-wát-o-mee, a Woman
- A-wun-ne-wa-be, Bird of Thunder
- Ah'-kay-ee-pix-en, Woman Who Strikes Many
- Ah'-sho-cole, Rotten Foot, a Noted Warrior
- Ah-móu-a, The Whale, One of Kee-o-kúk's Principal Braves