CATLIN, George (1796-1872)
Buffalo Hunt under the White Wolf Skin. An Indian Stratagem on the Level Prairies
New York: Currier & Ives, circa 1858. Lithograph, coloured by hand. Sheet size: 18 1/8 x 23 1/16 inches.
A very rare Currier and Ives issue of this classic image of life on the Western Plains before the coming of the white man.
Nathaniel Currier & James Ives, the most successful print publishers of their era, published only a few of Catlin's images and all are now particularly rare. Catlin's description of his own version of this plate ("Buffalo Hunt, Wolf Skin Mask", plate 13 from Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio) is equally valid when applied to the present Currier & Ives issue "The Indian, superior in craft to both... [the buffalo and wolf], and... [not owning] a horse, has [adopted]... the stratagem represented in this plate, of profiting by these circumstances, by placing himself under the skin of a white wolf, with his weapons in hand, in which plight he often creeps over the level prairies (where there is no object to conceal him) to close company with the unsuspecting herd... In this plate is a just representation of the level prairies which often occur for many miles together, affording to the eye of a traveller, in all directions, a complete type of the ocean in a calm; green near and around him, but changing to blue in the distance; without tree or shrub, or slightest undulation to break the perfect line of the surrounding horizon." 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. The present image is both a work of art of the highest quality and a fitting memorial to a vanished way of life.
Conningham 728; Gale 814; Peters 1519a.