CATLIN, George (1796-1872)
Buffalo Hunt, Chase
[Pl. 7] [London: Chatto & Windus, no date, but 1875]. Lithograph, coloured by hand, printed by Day & Haghe, on later card mount.
A fine image from Catlin's 'North American Indian Portfolio', one of the most important accounts of Native American life.
"In this plate is represented a number of the accidents of the chase, with all of which the sportsman in that country will soon become acquainted. There is also seen here another variety of the 'rolling' prairie; and the effect of the Indian's deadly weapons forcibly displayed; likewise a party of Indians dashing amongst a herd of buffaloes in a ravine, from which they are 'breaking' in various directions; and men, horses, and buffaloes are meeting the accidents and alternatives here represented, which are familiar in the country. In the midst of precisely such a scene I was thrown, in a desperate chase by a party of Sioux Indians, near the mouth of the Teton River, on the Upper Missouri."
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.
Cf. William S. Reese, The Production of Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio, 1844-1876.