Born: Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania 1796
Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872
Very important Indian painter, portrait painter, author, anthropologist
When Catlin was 8 years old, his mother had been captured by Indians. Therefore, his early life was influenced by family legends and frontier guests. He was educated at home, was outdoors oriented, and collected Indian relics. In 1817, he began studying law in Litchfield, Connecticut and at the same time teaching himself to paint portraits. He practiced law in Luzerne, Pennsylvania until 1823 when he moved to Philadelphia to devote himself to portrait painting, as a friend of Rembrandt Pealse, Thomas Sully, and John Neagle. His portraits up to 1829 included New York and Washington politicians. His Constitutional Convention painting in 1829 contained 115 figures.
In 1824, Catlin had seen a “delegation of dignified Indians from eh wilds of the West, tinted and tasseled off exactly for the painter’s palette.” This and his background resolved him “to use my art and so much of the labor of my future life as might be required in rescuing from oblivion the looks and customs of the vanishing races of native man in America.” He began in 1830 in St. Louis as the first artist of real stature to paint the tribes on the lower Missouri. In 1831 he traveled up the Platte River, and in 1832 headed up the Missouri to Fort Union. From 1834 to 1836 he painted among the Indians in the summers and in the winters he would return East to earn funds for the coming summer. From 1829 to 1838 he painted his collection of about 600 Indian portraits and sketches of the Indian civilization including exactly how they lived. The collection was offered for sale to the Congress but was not accepted. It was exhibited in the US and in Europe between 1837 and 1852, was taken as security for a loan, and eventually donated to the National Museum.
After 1852, Catlin made his “cartoon collection” of 603 paintings copying his earlier paintings, working from sketches and from memory, and adding new paintings of South American Indians. In 1861, Catlin wrote “The Breath of Life” in which he advocated keeping one’s mouth closed, particularly during sleep. Carlin was lean and agile, about 5’8”, with blue eyes, black hair. He walked with the straight, measured pace of an Indian.
Resource: SAMUELS’ Encyclopedia of ARTISTS of THE AMERICAN WEST,
Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing