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George Catlin and His Indian Gallery

Shon-ta-yi-ga, Little Wolf, a Famous Warrior, 1844,  • George Catlin, oil on canvas • 29 x 24 in. (73.7 x 60.9 cm.), • Smithsonian American Art Museum, • Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. • Photo courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum  • 
Shon-ta-yi-ga, Little Wolf, a Famous Warrior, 1844,
George Catlin, oil on canvas
29 x 24 in. (73.7 x 60.9 cm.),
Smithsonian American Art Museum,
Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.
Photo courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum
George Catlin and His Indian Gallery
WASHINGTON, D.C.  •  Smithsonian American Art Museum : Renwick Gallery  •  Ongoing
The exhibition includes artifacts George Catlin collected while in Plains Indian country and is the most comprehensive display of Catlin's work in over a century. The show features more than 400 objects and is installed on two floors at the museum's Renwick Gallery.

Catlin in America begins on the first floor and tells the story of his early work in Philadelphia and his epic journeys across the Plains, following the Lewis and Clark trail. Catlin in Europe occupies the Grand Salon on the second floor, and is installed in a way that recalls the Indian Gallery as Catlin displayed it during his tours in Europe. This section includes 230 paintings, archival materials and a canvas tipi 24-feet high.

George Catlin (1796–1872), a lawyer turned painter, decided in the 1820s that he would make it his life's work to record the life and culture of American Indians living on the Plains. In 1830, Catlin visited Gen. William Clark, governor of the Missouri Territory, superintendent of Indian affairs in St. Louis and famous co-leader of the 1804 expedition with Meriwether Lewis. Clark became Catlin's mentor, showing him his Indian museum, introducing him to the American Fur Trading Co., and taking him to visit Plains tribes. In 1832, Catlin made an epic journey that stretched over 2,000 miles along the upper Missouri River. St. Louis became Catlin's base of operations for the five trips he took between 1830 and 1836, eventually visiting 50 tribes.

Catlin's quest turned into a lifelong obsession that shaped his subsequent travels and the course of his life. In pursuit of his goals, this artist also became an explorer, historian, anthropologist, geologist, collector, journalist, author, lecturer and promoter. Catlin's dream was to sell his Indian Gallery to the U.S. government so that his life's work would be preserved intact. After several failed attempts to persuade various officials, he toured with it in Europe in the 1840s, where he often featured Native Americans dancing, creating the earliest version of what would later become the Wild West show. Tragically, he was forced to sell the original Indian Gallery due to personal debts in 1852. He then spent the last 20 years of his life trying to re-create his collection.

In 1872, Catlin came to Washington, D.C. at the invitation of Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian. Until his death later that year, Catlin worked in a studio in the Smithsonian "Castle." A Philadelphia collector's widow donated the original Indian Gallery—more than 500 works—to the Smithsonian in 1879.

The exhibition will travel to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. (7 February - 18 April 2004); the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles (9 May – 4 August 2004); and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (19 September 2004 – 2 January 2005).

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is co-publishing a book, titled George Catlin and His Indian Gallery, with W.W. Norton & Co. The book includes 120 color plates with extended captions by Joan Troccoli; essays by Brian Dippie, Christopher Mulvey and Therese Heyman; an introduction by W. Richard West, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian; and a preface by Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The book retails for $34.95 for softcover and $60 for hardcover. The book is available for purchase at the Renwick Gallery store, on the museum's Web site and at bookstores in the United States.

Smithsonian American Art Museum Web Site

Contact: Tel: (1) 202 357 27 00

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