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Self-torture in a Sioux Religious Ceremony

1835-1837 George Catlin Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1796 Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872 oil on canvas 19 5/8 x 27 1/4 in. (49.7 x 69.2 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. 1985.66.460 Not currently on view


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George Catlin painted several images of Indian rituals involving self-torture, scenes that shocked viewers when he exhibited his Indian Gallery in London. Critics accused the artist of making up such horrendous scenes as this one of a man hanging from a pole with splints and skewers running through his flesh. Catlin insisted that he indeed witnessed this event, and reported that the man had “blood trickling down over his body, which was covered with white and yellow clay . . . amidst a great crowd who were looking on, sympathizing with and encouraging him . . .” Catlin went on to explain that the man was “to stand and look at the sun, from its rising in the morning ‘till its setting at night.” If the man survived this ritual, he was cut down from the ropes and given a “liberal donation of presents.” (Truettner, The Natural Man Observed, 1979)

Keywords

Ceremony - Indian

Ceremony - religion

Ethnic - Indian - Sioux

Figure group - male

State of being - evil - torture

Western

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

metal - aluminum - support added