July 2016

George Catlin Lithographs



George Catlin LithographsA collection of color lithographs by American artist George Catlin (1796 – 1872) is featured in the recently opened exhibit, George Catlin: Life Among North American Indian Tribes, at the Old Courthouse Museum.  After giving up a short career in the practice of law, Catlin worked for several years as a miniaturist in Philadelphia.  It was there that a small delegation of “noble and dignified-looking Indians,” as he described them, inspired him to pursue what would become his life’s work.  Beginning in 1830, Catlin traveled North America’s “Far West” documenting tribes of the continent.  In addition to painting, sketching and writing about individual Native American men and women, Catlin also preserved knowledge about their villages, daily life, clothing, games, weaponry, character and history from his own nineteenth century perspective.

The color lithographs in the Museum’s newest exhibit were originally published in a portfolio in 1844.  Catlin also wrote several books about his travels and experiences among the native tribes of North, Central and South America, including the two-volume set entitled Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians. 

Catlin desired to preserve his body of work intact and attempted numerous times to sell his Indian Gallery to the United States government without success. Seven years after George Catlin’s death, the original Indian Gallery was donated to the Smithsonian by its owner.  The nearly complete set is now held in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collections, fulfilling at least in part Catlin’s wish to preserve his works.


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