CATLIN, George (1796-1872)
[Pl. 20] [London: Henry Bohn, 1845]. Lithograph, coloured by hand, by McGahey, printed by Day & Haghe. Image size: 12 1/8 x 17 5/8 inches. Sheet size: 16 3/16 x 22 3/8 inches.
A fine image from Catlin's 'North American Indian Portfolio', one of the most important accounts of Native American life.
"These beautiful and delicate little animals seem to be endowed, like many other 'gentle and sweet-breathing creatures', with an undue share of curiosity...; and the hunter who wishes to entrap them easily does so without taking the trouble of travelling after them. For this purpose, when he has been discovered by them, he has only to elevate above the tops of the grass, on the point of an arrow or his ramrod stuck in the ground, a little red or yellow flag, the lightness of which will keep it trembling in the wind, to which they are sure to advance, though with great coyness and caution; whilst the hunter lies close, at a little distance to the right or the left, with his rifle or bow in his hand... In the landscape view in this plate, (which... is a picture from Nature,) a striking resemblance is seen to the noble Park scenery in England; and the resemblance is forcibly heightened by the group that is dancing over it."
Catlin summarized the Native American as "an honest, hospitable, faithful, brave, warlike, cruel, revengeful, relentless, -- yet honourable, contemplative and religious being". In a famous passage from the preface of his North American Indian Portfolio , Catlin describes how the sight of several tribal chiefs in Philadelphia led to his resolution to record their way of life: "the history and customs of such a people, preserved by pictorial illustrations, are themes worthy of the lifetime of one man, and nothing short of the loss of my life shall prevent me from visiting their country and becoming their historian". He saw no future for either their way of life or their very existence, and with these thoughts always at the back of his mind he worked, against time, setting himself a truly punishing schedule, to record what he saw. From 1832 to 1837 he spent the summer months sketching the tribes and then finished his pictures in oils during the winter. The record he left is unique, both in its breadth and also in the sympathetic understanding that his images constantly demonstrate. A selection of the greatest of images from this record were published in the North American Indian Portfolio in an effort to reach as wide an audience as possible. The present image is one of the results of this publishing venture and is both a work of art of the highest quality and a fitting memorial to a vanished way of life.
Abbey Travel 653; Field Indian Bibliography 258; Howes C-243; McCracken 10; Sabin 11532; Wagner-Camp 105a:1.