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Shin-gós-se-moon, Big Sail, a Chief

1836? George Catlin Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1796 Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872 oil on canvas 29 x 24 in. (73.7 x 60.9 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. 1985.66.198 Not currently on view


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From 1830 to 1836, George Catlin traveled the American West to document Native Americans and their customs, and his ambition was to capture Plains Indians untouched by the effects of civilization. But by 1836, the year he painted this portrait of Big Sail, Catlin understood that civilization was indeed encroaching on the “natural man” he hoped to document. Catlin probably painted the Ottawa chief at Mackinac, an island in Lake Huron where a remnant of the tribe remained. He described Big Sail as “blind in one eye,” and thought the “effects of whiskey and civilization . . . plainly discernible in this instance.” (Catlin, 1848 Catalogue, Catlin’s Indian Gallery, SAAM online exhibition; Truettner, The Natural Man Observed, 1979)

Keywords

Dress - accessory - jewelry

Ethnic - Indian - Ottawa

Portrait male - Big Sail

Portrait male - Big Sail - bust

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

metal - aluminum - support added