CATLIN, George (1796-1872)
Catching the Wild Horse
[Pl. 4] London: Printed by Day & Haghe. 1844. Tinted lithograph. Printed on fine wove paper. In execellent condition with the exception of a skillfully mended tear along the bottom margin. Image size (including text): 12 7/8 x 8 1/4 inches. Sheet size: 16 3/4 x 23 1/4 inches.
A fine image from Catlin's 'North American Indian Portfolio', one of the most important accounts of Native American life.
"In this struggle, which... generally lasts about half an hour, there is a desperate contention for the mastery, which is easily seen to be decided by reason and invention, rather than by superiority in brute force. The Indian leans back upon his halter, which is firmly held in both hands, and as his horse is getting breath and strength to rise, repeatedly checks it, preventing it from gaining any advantage; and gradually advances, hand over hand upon the tightened halter, towards the horse's head, until [it]... allows the caressing hand of its new master to pat it on the nose, and in a few minutes to cover its eyes, when the exchange of a few deep-drawn breaths from their meeting nostrils seems to compromise the struggle; the animal discovering in its conqueror, instead of an enemy, a friend... for the rest of its life."
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.