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

Copied George Catlin, Wi-jún-jon, Pigeon's Egg Head (The Light) Going To and Returning From Washington, 1837-1839, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr., 1985.66.474
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Artwork Details

Title
Wi-jún-jon, Pigeon’s Egg Head (The Light) Going To and Returning From Washington
Date
1837-1839
Dimensions
2924 in. (73.660.9 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.
Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
Classifications
Keywords
  • Portrait male — Pigeon’s Egg Head
  • Indian
  • Portrait male — Light
  • Dress — accessory — umbrella
  • Dress — Indian dress
Object Number
1985.66.474

Artwork Description

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.
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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)