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Wi-jún-jon, Pigeon's Egg Head (The Light) Going To and Returning From Washington

1837-1839 George Catlin 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. 1985.66.474 Smithsonian American Art Museum
2nd Floor, South Wing


Gallery Label

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)

Keywords

Dress - accessory - umbrella

Dress - ethnic - Indian dress

Ethnic - Indian

Portrait male - Light

Portrait male - Pigeon's Egg Head

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

metal - aluminum - support added