[CATLIN, George (1796-1872)
Wi-jun-jon. An Assinnecoin Chief
[Pl. 25] New York: James Ackerman, 1845. Lithograph, hand-coloured, after Catlin and McGahey. Sheet size: 22 3/4 x 16 1/4 inches.
From the very rare American edition of Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio, one of the most important accounts of native-American life.
Wi-jun-jon, an Assiniboin Chief and distinguished member of his tribe, was chosen as delegate to a Washington meeting in 1832. Travelling down the Missouri by boat, he first met Catlin in St. Louis, and his portrait was painted in his exceedingly beautiful native costume. When Catlin next saw Wi-jun-jon, it was upon the Chief's return trip from Washington, where he had exchanged his clothing for a military suit of blue broad cloth with epaulettes. So impressed by the transformation, Catlin painted this double portrait showing the Assiniboin Chief going to Washington and returning to his home. 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. The American edition of Catlin's North American Indian Port Folio was published in 1845, a year after the British, by James Ackerman. Examples from this edition are exceedingly rare.
Cf. Abbey Travel 653; cf. Field Indian Bibliography 258; cf. Howes C-243; cf. McCracken 10; cf. Sabin 11532; cf. Wagner-Camp 105a:1.