CATLIN, George (1796-1872)
[Buffalo Hunt, Chasing Back]
[Pl 12] [London: Henry Bohn, 1845]. Lithograph, coloured by hand, printed by Day & Haghe, on original card mount within ink-ruled frame. Image size (including text): 12 x 17 1/2 inches. Sheet size: 18 3/8 x 24 inches (mount size).
A fine image from Catlin's "North American Indian Portfolio," one of the most important accounts of native-American life.
"Turn about is fair play," according to an old and familiar adage; and this wild and thrilling scene personifies this idea almost too literally for the viewer to admit the justness of its application. The... bull often turns upon its assailant, and runs him back, over the whole ground; in which unpleasant reverse he has but to balance himself upon his little horse, praying for smooth ground under its feet, and deliverance from the fury that is behind him. The picturesque and jagged outline of hills only requires the background of a dark, lurid cloud; and if viewed from a distance it will need but little stretch of the imagination to conceive it to be a magnificent castle, fit for the residence of the proudest monarch on earth. The man depicted is thought to have been Sir Charles A. Murray. who traveled in this region 1834-36. 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.