Revisiting the West

Take Two: George Catlin Revisits the West is on exhibit through May 31 at the Sid Richardson Museum.

Buffalo Chase - Bulls Protecting the Calves, 1861/1869
Nine Ojibbeway Indians in London, 1861/1869
Buffalo Lancing in the Snow Drifts – Sioux, 1861/1869
Expedition Encamped on a Texas Prairie. April 1686 (1847/1848)
A Cheyenne Warrior Resting His Horse

On loan from the National Gallery of Art, George Catlin’s work illustrates the cultures of the American Indians living west of the Mississippi in the 1830s.

“The National Gallery of Art is very pleased to join with The Sid Richardson Museum in presenting an important group of paintings by George Catlin, one of the first artists to record the appearance and customs of Native Americans living in the West,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “We are especially pleased that the paintings will remain on view through the school year, providing many opportunities for educational programming.”
Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., George Catlin was a self-taught artist, author, entrepreneur and ethnographer. While Catlin was trained in the law, he chose art instead. Knowing in the 1830s that American Indian cultures were vanishing, Catlin made it his mission to record native life in the Americas for future generations.
The 17 paintings on exhibit portray eight different tribes, including the Caddo, Comanche and Kiowa (Texas tribes that Catlin encountered in the Arkansas Territory) and the Cheyenne, Mandan, Ojibwa, Pawnee and Sioux Plains Indian.
Also on loan and on exhibit is a rare edition of one of the most famous books published in the 19th century on the American Indian entitled Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians.
“We are delighted that our first loan exhibition from the National Gallery of Art features a selection from George Catlin’s Cartoon Collection,” said Mary Burke, director of the Sid Richardson Museum. “Thirteen of the works have never been exhibited in Texas.”
Catlin visited 48 Indian tribes and completed more than 500 paintings depicting everyday life such as buffalo hunts, dances, games, amusements, rituals and religious ceremonies. These paintings were known as the Indian Gallery. In 1852 Catlin had to forfeit the Indian Gallery to pay off his creditors. He then started working on what became known as his second Indian Gallery, which he referred to as his Cartoon Collection.
Instead of painting with oil on canvas, Catlin painted the cartoons with oil on card stock, which he then mounted on paperboard. For convenience during his travels, he also painted an oval around the edge of many of his paintings instead of using a frame.
“Catlin’s art is a natural fit for our museum since Charles Russell and Frederic Remington, two of the most prominent artists in our permanent collection, also devoted themselves to Western themes, with a great awareness of what was unfolding in the West during their lifetime,” said Burke. “Catlin, who recorded the cultural life of the Native Americans he encountered on his travels west of the Mississippi in the 1830s, painted anticipating a time in the future when the manners and customs of the American Indian would be lost. Remington and Russell, who depicted life in the post-Civil War American West, painted with a sense of nostalgia for a West that was then passing or had already passed.”
The guest curator for this exhibit is Brian W. Dippie, Ph.D., professor emeritus of history at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Dr. Dippie is a specialist in the history of Western American art.
“Catlin was the most influential American Indian painter of the 19th century,” Dr. Dippie said, “because he showed Indian life in Indian country—not just portraits, but in fact scenes of buffalo hunts, village life, dances, and amusements— that he had witnessed. He was a participant-observer. His claim on the public’s attention was his conviction that Indian cultures were vanishing and would be known by future generations only through the visual record he was preserving. He had hoped to acquaint the world with the features and customs of a noble but dying race through paintings, prose and lectures that would serve as their monument after civilization had eradicated every other trace of their existence. His pictorial history is the most complete collection of paintings that show Native American cultures in the West in the 1830s. There is no body of artistic images of the Indians comparable to Catlin’s in terms of being early and influential because of his exhibitions and books.”
“This second take on his subjects is important in understanding his circumstances and in understanding the enlarged record of the American Indian that he provided,” said Dippie. “The two goals of the exhibition are to illuminate the guiding principles behind Catlin's entire enterprise and to focus on Southern Plains subjects with a Texas twist.”
Admission is free to the museum, which is open daily except for major holidays, at 309 Main St. in Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth. For information, go to sidrichardsonmuseum.org or call 817.332.6554. by FWTX Staff