[CATLIN, George (1796-1872)
North American Indians
[Pl. 1] London: Chatto & Windus, no date, but 1875]. Lithograph, hand-coloured, by McGahey after Catlin. Wove paper, cut to the edge of the image and mounted on card, as issued, within an ink-ruled frame. Image size (including text): 17 3/4 x 13 inches. Sheet size: 21 3/4 x 17 3/4 inches.
A fine image from Catlin's 'North American Indian Portfolio', one of the most important accounts of Native American life.
Catlin here combines three distinct portraits for the introductory plate to his North American Indian Portfolio which otherwise details hunting scenes and other aspects of Indian life. As Catlin writes: "The group in Plate 1 is composed of three Portraits from my Collection, representing three different tribes of various latitudes, and well illustrating a number of the leading characteristics of this interesting part of the human family." All three figures, an Osage Warrior, an Iroquois, and a Pawnee woman, are shown in modes of dress and ornamentation for cool weather, exhibiting the characteristic differences of the various tribes.
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.