Wi-jún-jon, Pigeon's Egg Head (The Light) Going To and Returning From Washington
Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1796
Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872
oil on canvas 29 x 24 in. (73.6 x 60.9 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
2nd Floor, South Wing
Catlin mistranslated Ah-jon-jon, whose name means “The Light,” as “Pigeon's Egg Head.” The Light was an Assiniboine leader who was invited in 1831 to represent his tribe in Washington. During a winter in the nation's capital, he traded his native dress for European clothes and customs. In Catlin's before-and-after portrait, the once proud warrior, with a liquor bottle in his pocket, swaggers in high-heeled boots and carries a fan and umbrella. For Catlin, this transformation illustrated the tragic gulf between Native American and white cultures.
Luce Center Label
George Catlin first met the Light in St. Louis in December 1831, when the Assiniboine warrior was en route to Washington to meet President Andrew Jackson and tour the city. Catlin recalled that the warrior appeared for his portrait sitting “plumed and tinted . . . [and] dressed in his native costume, which was classic and exceedingly beautiful.” Wi-jún-jon returned home to the northern Plains eighteen months later a decidedly different man---dressed apparently in a “general’s” uniform and sharing what to his fellow tribesmen were astonishing accounts of the white man’s cities. They eventually rejected his stories as “ingenious fabrication of novelty and wonder,” and his persistence in telling such “lies” eventually led to his murder. (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 2, no. 55, 1841; reprint 1973)
Dress - accessory - umbrella
Dress - ethnic - Indian dress
Ethnic - Indian
Portrait male - Light
Portrait male - Pigeon's Egg Head
paint - oil
fabric - canvas
metal - aluminum - support added
About George Catlin
Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1796 Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872
More works in the collection by
- George Catlin and His Indian Gallery / American Art
- George Catlin's Indian Gallery / American Art
- Exhibitions / American Art
- Online Exhibitions / Smithsonian American Art Museum
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