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George Catlin
Máh-to-tóh-pa, Four Bears, Second Chief, in Full Dress, 1832
Mandan/Numakiki
oil
29 x 24 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.


“This extraordinary man, though second in office is undoubtedly the first and most popular man in the nation. Free, generous, elegant and gentlemanly in his deportment—handsome, brave and valiant; wearing a robe on his back, with the history of his battles emblazoned on it; which would fill a book of themselves, if properly translated. This, readers, is the most extraordinary man, perhaps, who lives at this day, in the atmosphere of Nature's noblemen.…

“The dress of Mah-to-toh-pa … the greater part of which I have represented in his full-length portrait, and which I shall now describe, was purchased of him after I had painted his picture; and every article of it can be seen in my Indian Gallery by the side of the portrait, provided I succeed in getting them home to the civilized world without injury.

Mah-to-toh-pa had agreed to stand before me for his portrait at an early hour of the next morning, and on that day I sat with my palette of colours prepared, and waited till twelve o'clock, before he could leave his toilette with feelings of satisfaction as to the propriety of his looks and the arrangement of his equipments; and at that time it was announced, that ‘Mah-to-toh-pa was coming in full dress!’ I looked out of the door of the wigwam, and saw him approaching with a firm and elastic step, accompanied by a great crowd of women and children, who were gazing on him with admiration, and escorting him to my room. No tragedian ever trod the stage, nor gladiator ever entered the Roman Forum, with more grace and manly dignity than did Mah-to-toh-pa enter the wigwam, where I was in readiness to receive him. He took his attitude before me, and with the sternness of a Brutus and the stillness of a statue, he stood until the darkness of night broke upon the solitary stillness. His dress, which was a very splendid one, was complete in all its parts, and consisted of a shirt or tunic, leggings, moccasins, head-dress, necklace, shield, bow and quiver, lance, tobacco-sack, and pipe; robe, belt, and knife; medicine-bag, tomahawk, and war-club, or po-ko-mo-kon.

“The shirt, of which I have spoken, was made of two skins of the mountain-sheep, beautifully dressed, and sewed together by seams which rested upon the arms; one skin hanging in front, upon the breast, and the other falling down upon the back; the head being passed between them, and they falling over and resting on the shoulders. Across each shoulder, and somewhat in the form of an epaulette, was a beautiful band; and down each arm from the neck to the hand was a similar one, of two inches in width (and crossing the other at right angles on the shoulder) beautifully embroidered with porcupine quills worked on the dress, and covering the seams. To the lower edge of these bands the whole way, at intervals of half an inch, were attached long locks of black hair, which he had taken with his own hand from the heads of his enemies whom he had slain in battle, and which he thus wore as a trophy, and also as an ornament to his dress. The front and back of the shirt were curiously garnished in several parts with porcupine quills and paintings of the battles he had fought, and also with representations of the victims that had fallen by his hand. The bottom of the dress was bound or hemmed with ermine skins, and tassels of ermines' tails were suspended from the arms and the shoulders.

“The Leggings, which were made of deer skins, beautifully dressed, and fitting tight to the leg, extended from the feet to the hips, and were fastened to a belt which was passed around the waist. These, like the shirt, had a similar band, worked with porcupine quills of richest dyes, passing down the seam on the outer part of the leg, and fringed also the whole length of the leg, with the scalp-locks taken from his enemies' heads.…

“The Head-dress, which was superb and truly cent, consisted of a crest of war-eagles” gracefully falling back from the forehead e back part of the head, and extending quite down to his feet; set the whole way in a profusion of ermine, and surmounted on the top of the head, with the horns of the buffalo, shaved thin and highly polished.…

“Such was the dress of Mah-to-toh-pa when he entered my wigwam to stand for his picture; but such I have not entirely represented it in his portrait; having rejected such trappings and ornaments as interfered with the grace and simplicity Of the figure. He was beautifully and extravagantly dressed; and in this he was not alone, for hundreds of others are equally elegant. In plumes, and arms, and ornaments, he is not singular; but in laurels and wreaths he stands unparalleled. His breast has been bared and scarred in defence of his country, and his brows crowned with honours that elevate him conspicuous above all of his nation. There is no man amongst the Mandans so generally loved, nor any one who wears a robe so justly famed and honourable as that of Mah-to-toh-pa” (Letters and Notes, vol. 1, pp. 92, 110–17, 140–54, pl. 64).

Painted at the Mandan village in 1832. Four Bears (Máh-to-tóh-pa) was the most publicized Indian of the Upper Missouri in the 1830s, and the subject among all of Catlin's portraits whom the artist most favored. The two communicated often and at length during Catlin's stay at Mandan village, and the full-length portrait of Four Bears is one of the finest, and certainly the most widely known, in the collection. Calm, dignified, splendidly costumed (and stripped of certain encumbering “ornaments and trappings”), the chief is presented by Catlin with all the pomp of an imperial portrait, and Ewers (1968) points out how that image of Four Bears became over the years a symbol of the North American Indian. Ewers (1956) also comments on the accuracy of the portrait by comparing the features to those of Four Bears' son, and the costume details to the original costume, which is in the Smithsonian anthropology collections. The deliberate brushwork and Karl Bodmer's wellknown portraits of Four Bears (see Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels 1740–1846, pls. 46, 47) are a further guarantee that Catlin's likeness is generally correct.

The Gilcrease watercolor incorporates most of the detail of the original, and the half-length portrait of Four Bears in the Smithsonian is a less imposing, but more sympathetic and descriptive record of his features. Catlin also lists a painting of the subject among those commissioned by Louis Philippe (see Travels in Europe). Four Bears appears again, full length, in plate 28 of the North American Indian Portfolio, first published in 1844, and in several cartoons that Catlin reproduced with some frequency. The most popular are those in which the chief poses with his family (cartoon 30), and before the astonished members of his tribe as the artist paints his portrait (cartoon 191). A superior version of the former is in the Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin, and the cartoon itself is based on a watercolor (pl. 2) in the Gilcrease Souvenir album. Another cartoon (133), which was taken from plate 62 in Letters and Notes, shows Catlin feasting in Four Bears' lodge, and a fourth (cartoon 194) illustrates the buffalo robe upon which the chief, who was also an artist, depicted his triumphs in battle.



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