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George Catlin's Depiction of the Indian Country

Artists like George Catlin played an important role in shaping public perceptions of Indian life in the nineteenth century. A restless Philadelphia portrait painter, Catlin arrived in St. Louis in 1830 determined to record “how [Indians] live, how they dress, how they worship, what are their actions, their customs, their religion, their amusements ... as they practice them in the uncivilized regions of their uninvaded country…” With William Clark’s assistance, he met and painted visiting tribal leaders and traveled to the upper Missouri to continue his project.

This Blackfeet leader and his wife sat for their portraits at Fort Union in North Dakota in 1832. Catlin emphasized the couple’s exotic dress and stately bearing. He made this pencil copy of his original portrait sometime in the 1850s, in an effort to generate additional income. The Newberry’s set of 211 drawings is one of the largest collections of his work.

George Catlin. “Stu-mick-o-suks (The Buffalo's Basket), Head Chief of the Blackfoot Tribe,” copied from Souvenir of the North American Indians as They Were in the Middle of the 19th Century. Pencil on paper, 1852.

George Catlin. “Eeh-nis-kim. (The Crystal Stone), Wife of Stu-mick-o-suks of the Blackfoot Tribe,” copied from Souvenir of the North American Indians as They Were in the Middle of the 19th Century. Pencil on paper, 1852.

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Newberry Library

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Newberry Library