CATLIN, George (1796-1872)
Catlin the celebrated Indian traveller and artist, firing his Colt's Repeating Rifle before a tribe of Carib Indians in South America.
London: Day & Son, [circa 1855-1860]. Hand-finished colour-printed lithograph, drawn on stone by J. M'Gahey of Chester after George Catlin, printed by Day & Son, within a lithographed thin single line border printed in ochre, with lithographed title printed in black beneath. Sheet size: 18 x 25 1/8 inches.
A scarce print from the rarest of Catlin's pictorial publications.
When the United States Senate rejected an 1852 bill proposing the purchase for the nation of George Catlin's "Indian Gallery," the artist was bankrupted and lost virtually all of the paintings and drawings that he had used in his exhibitions. In order to raise funds, Catlin proposed an expedition to market Samuel Colt's firearms. Colt was eager to publicize his new revolving pistols and rifles and to have them adopted by the United States Army, and he commissioned Catlin to "paint a series of twelve pictures showing Colts being employed in the field. The terms of their agreement are unclear, but Catlin completed the order by 1857, and the Colt Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company subsequently used the paintings in its advertising" (Dippie). "Six of the paintings were turned into lithographs, but few sets seem to have been made" (Miles & Reese).
The set, all drawn in Catlin's distinctive style, show the artist using Colt firearms in the wilds of both North and South America. The plates were printed in London by Day & Son, the best known British lithographic printers of the period; Catlin's images were drawn on stone by J. M'Gahey of Chester, England. These prints are not in any of the standard bibliographies and the only other recorded holdings are in the Colt Firearms Collection (Connecticut State Library in Hartford), the Amon Carter Museum, Yale University (the Paul Mellon set) and the Wadsworth Athenaeum.
Text beneath the image reads: "It having been been reported by one of my party that I had a Medicine Gun, which would fire all day without reloading, the Men, Women & Children, assembled in front of the Chief's Lodge to get a sight of it, - when I found it necessary to make an exhibition - and arranged a target at a suitable distance whe[re I to]ok my position / in front of the crowd rapidly discharging all the chambers, and cocked the piece for a continuation, but the chief advanced and assured me they were all satisfied, and I had better save my powder and balls, as I might want them, on a very long journey."
George A. Miles and William S. Reese, America Pictured to the Life 69; cf. Dippie, Catlin and his Contemporaries: The Politics of Patronage , 1990.