Agathe Cabau

2012 – 2013 Terra Foundation for American Art Predoctoral Fellow
Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Representations of Native Americans at the Paris Salons and French Great Exhibitions from 1800 to 1914 by American and French Migrant Artists

My dissertation investigates images of Native Americans shown at the Paris Salons and French Great exhibitions of 1855, 1868, 1878, and 1900. I demonstrate how these artistic depictions of Native Americans were informed by nineteenth-century visual culture and reveal the impact of literature on the visual arts and artists’ itineraries. At the beginning of the century, paintings and sculptures shown at the salons underlined the greatness of the “good Indian” and his physical beauty through romantic depictions. These works of art were influenced by the works of two well-known novelists: René de Chateaubriand (Atala, 1801) and James Fenimore Cooper (Tales of Leather-Stocking, 1826-41). Whereas, artists in the second half of the century staged the ferocity of the “savage man” toward the pioneers.

My dissertation also considers the appeal of the theme of captivity for American and European artists. Narratives of white captives taken by Indians were published in widely read newspapers and surrounded these works of art. Their common display in France proves the breadth of this theme. Moreover, it illustrates a visual culture of U.S. history and literature in nineteenth-century Paris. This study also explores the development of artistic exchanges between France and the United States. French artists benefitted from the presence of American artists, such as painter John Vanderlyn, one of the very first artists to represent Native Americans in his Death of Jane Mc Crea at the Paris Salon of 1804. And a revealing symbol of the productivity of Franco-American artistic exchanges is the reception given to American painter George Catlin, who traveled to Paris in 1845, accompanied by twelve Native Americans and transporting North American Indian artifacts and 540 paintings. Catlin exhibited two portraits of Indian Chiefs at the Paris Salons, commissioned by the French king Louis-Philippe. Famous French writers such as Charles Baudelaire, George Sand, and Théophile Gautier praised Catlin’s paintings in their Salon chronicles.