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Back View of Mandan Village, Showing the Cemetery

1832 George Catlin Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1796 Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872 oil on canvas 11 1/4 x 14 3/8 in. (28.5 x 36.6 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. 1985.66.392 Not currently on view


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“[The Mandan] never bury the dead, but place the bodies on slight scaffolds just above the reach of human hands, and out of the way of wolves and dogs; and they are there left to moulder and decay. This cemetery, or place of deposit for the dead, is just back of the village, on a level prairie; and with all its appearances, history, forms, ceremonies, &c. is one of the strangest and most interesting objects to be described in the vicinity of this peculiar race . . . When the scaffolds on which the bodies rest, decay and fall to the ground, the nearest relations having buried the rest of the bones, take the skulls, which are perfectly bleached and purified, and place them in circles of an hundred or more on the prairie---placed at equal distances apart (some eight or nine inches from each other), with the faces all looking to the centre; where they are religiously protected and preserved in their precise positions from year to year, as objects of religious and affectionate veneration.” George Catlin sketched and perhaps painted this scene at a Mandan village in 1832. (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 1, no. 12, 1841; reprint 1973)

Keywords

Architecture Exterior - domestic - hut

Ethnic - Indian - Mandan

Landscape - cemetery

Western

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

metal - aluminum - support added