Picturing the American Buffalo: George Catlin and Modern Native American Artists

October 11, 2019 - April12, 2020

Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, NW)
Artwork Image
Media - 1985.66.404 - SAAM-1985.66.404_1 - 9039

Buffalo Bull, Grazing on the Prairie by George Catlin, 1832–1833

George Catlin was among the earliest artists of European descent to travel beyond the Mississippi River to record what he called the “manners and customs” of American Indians, painting scenes and portraits from life. His intention was to document these native cultures before, as he feared, they were irrevocably altered by settlement of the frontier and the mass migrations forced by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. On his trips, Catlin recorded the massive herds of buffalo that roamed the Great Plains of the American West. In chronicling the lifeways of Plains Indian cultures, he captured the central importance of the buffalo in the daily lives of American Indian tribes, from food and shelter to ceremony and naming.

George Catlin was a complicated and controversial figure in his own century and remains so today. This exhibition examines representations of buffalo and their integration into the lives of Native Americans on the Great Plains. It features forty original paintings by George Catlin in conversation with work by modern Native artists Woodrow Crumbo, Paul Flying Eagle Goodbear, Allan Houser, Julian Martinez, Fritz Scholder, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Awa Tsireh, Thomas Vigil, and Beatien Yazz.

Exhibition Catalogue

George Catlin and His Indian Gallery

George Catlin and His Indian Gallery, includes 120 color plates with an illustrated commentary by Joan Troccoli; essays by Brian Dippie, Christopher Mulvey and Therese Heyman; and an introduction by W. Richard West, founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. It is available for purchase online.

Exhibition Catalogue

George Catlin’s American Buffalo

A catalogue accompanies the exhibition, with an essay by Adam Duncan Harris, the Petersen Curator of Art and Research at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. In his commentary about Catlin’s paintings, Harris explores the artist’s representation of the close relationship between Native Americans and the buffalo. The book is published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in association with D Giles Limited, London. It is available for purchase online for $49.95 (hardcover only).


Picturing the American Buffalo: George Catlin and Modern Native American Artists is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from the Knobloch Family Foundation and Wyoming Friends of SAAM.