Museum PR Announcements News and Information

National Portrait Gallery Announces Exhibition of George Catlin’s American Indian Portraits

The National Portrait Gallery in London announces its spring 2013 exhibition of iconic American Indian portraits by the American artist George Catlin (1796-1872). George Catlin: American Indian Portraits will open on 7 March 2013 and will include major loans from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington.

Stu-Mick-o-Sucks, Buffalo Bill’s Back Fat, Head Chief, Blood Tribe, Blackfoot/Kainai by George Catlin, 1832 © Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr

Catlin was an artist, writer and showman who documented Native American peoples and their cultures to serve as a record of what he believed to be a passing way of life. What he created is regarded as one of the most important records of indigenous peoples ever made. Catlin was not the only artist to embark on such a project in the nineteenth century, but his record is the most extensive still in existence.

Catlin, who had little formal training, began his artistic career as a painter of portrait miniatures. In the 1830s he made five trips in the western part of the United States before the Native American peoples of those regions had been subsumed into the legal boundaries of the United States. He assembled the materials and work he produced, during and inspired by the five trips, into his ‘Indian Gallery’ which comprised some 500 portraits, pictures and indigenous artefacts. Catlin’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to tour the ‘Indian Gallery’ in the eastern states from 1837-39, but he failed in selling it to the United States government. He then went on to tour the gallery in Europe for the next ten years including exhibitions held in Great Britain, France and Belgium. The works will be displayed to evoke the sense of spectacle Catlin created during the time of his tour and by doing so will demonstrate how Catlin constructed a particular image of Native Americans in the minds of his audience.

George Catlin: American Indian Portraits is organised by the National Portrait Gallery, London, in collaboration with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington. The exhibition is curated by Dr Stephanie Pratt, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Plymouth who has published extensively on the representation of Native American peoples, and Dr Joan Carpenter Troccoli, Founding Director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum, from which she retired in 2012. She is co-author of George Catlin and His Indian Gallery (2002). –