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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Painting: George Catlin: Eagle Dance, Choctaw
Eagle Dance, Choctaw

Eagle Dance, Choctaw
George Catlin
oil on the canvas
19 1/2 x 27 1/2 in. (49.6 x 70.0 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.

“The Eagle Dance, a very pretty scene . . . [was] got up by their young men, in honour of that bird, for which they seem to have a religious regard. This picturesque dance was given by twelve or sixteen men, whose bodies were chiefly naked and painted white, with white clay, and each one holding in his hand the tail of the eagle, while his head was also decorated with an eagle's quill. Spears were stuck in the ground, around which the dance was performed by four men at a time, who had simultaneously, at the beat of the drum, jumped up from the ground where they had all sat in rows of four, one row immediately behind the other, and ready to take the place of the first four when they left the ground fatigued . . . In this dance, the steps or rather jumps, were different from anything I had ever witnessed before, as the dancers were squat down, with their bodies almost to the ground, in a severe and most difficult posture, as will have been seen in the drawing.” This painting was inspired by sketches that George Catlin made near Fort Gibson (present-day Oklahoma) in 1834. (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 2, no. 49, 1841; reprint 1973)

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