George Catlin

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, gift of May C. Kinney, Ernest C. Kinney and Bradford Wickes
George Catlin
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Jersey City, New Jersey
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Luce Artist Biography

A self-taught artist, George Catlin is best remembered for his extensive travels across the American West, recording the lives of Native Americans in a collection of images the artist called his Indian Gallery. Early in his career, Catlin practiced law in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, having passed the bar exam in 1818. He abandoned his practice in 1821 to pursue painting. Catlin enjoyed modest success painting portraits and miniatures, but found both inadequate to his ambition of becoming a history painter. In 1828, after seeing a delegation of western Indians in the east, he had found a subject, as he later wrote, "on which to devote a whole life-time of enthusiasm." Catlin traveled the frontier from 1830 to 1836, visiting fifty tribes west of the Mississippi, from present-day North Dakota to Oklahoma, and creating an astonishing visual record of Native American life. Catlin's Indian Gallery was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1879 by Mrs. Joseph Harrison Jr. after the the death of her husband, an art collector in Philadelphia. Several hundred of Catlin's Indian portraits now hang in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.