George Catlin Artwork

George Catlin

Buffalo Bull’s Back Fat
head chief, Blood Tribe, 1832

Tribute to Native Americans

“The common earth, the air, the skies,
To her were opening Paradise.
That floats as wild as mountain breezes,
Leaving every beauty free,
To sink, or well, as Heaven Pleases.”

George Catlin Creed: I love a people

I love a people that have always made me welcome to the very best that they had.

I love a people who are honest without laws, who have no jails and no poorhouses.

I love a people who keep the commandments without ever having read or heard them preached from the pulpit.

I love a people who never swear or take the name of God in vain.

I love a people who love their neighbors as they love themselves.

I love a people who worship God without a Bible, for I believe that God loves them also.

I love a people whose religion is all the same, and who are free from religious animosities.

I love a people who have never raised a hand against me, or stolen my property, when there was no law to punish either.

I love and do not fear mankind where God has made and left them, for they are his children.

I love a people who have never fought a battle with the white man, except on their own ground.

I love a people who live and keep what is their own without lock and keys.

I love a people who do the best they can. And oh how I love a people who do not live for the love of money.

George Catlin


George Catlin was born in 1796 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. As a child he had strong interests in the out-of-doors and less in schooling. He studied and practiced law briefly, but enjoyed art more. He quit his practice and travelled to Philadelphia to take up the latter profession in 1823. He became friends with a number of local artists, including Rembrandt Peale. He became proficient enough at art to gain membership standing in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts by 1824.

With a letter of introduction to William Clark, he travelled to St. Louis in 1830 and later that year and the next accompanied Governor Clark to council meetings held on the middle Missouri. This was the start of his portraits of Indians and their environment. For the next six years his typical experience was to spend the winters in or around St. Louis making money by painting portraits of the local inhabitants and the summers in Indian territory.

In 1836 he went to New York City and opened a show of his works and artifacts he had collected. He latter opened shows in London and Paris. All were enthusiastically received. Due to financial miss-dealings, he entered a state of bankruptcy in 1852. His paintings and materials were purchased by Joseph Harrison, an American, who then shipped all goods home to Philadelphia where they remained in storage until seven years after the artist’s death.

Catlin returned home and from 1852 to 1860 travelled widely, both in North and South America. He repainted many of his older paintings from sketches and memory. He died in 1872.

Following the death of Joseph Harrison in 1879, his heirs offered the Catlin materials to the United States Government. The materials were transferred to the Smithsonian Institution and are now on view at various locations in Washington, DC. The second set of paintings were purchased by the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Historical Society. Catlin’s paintings capture for us an image of what Indian society was like before the groups had been decimated by small pox or internecine warfare.

George Catlin Quotes

“I have seen him shrinking from civilized approach, which came with all its
vices, like the dead of night upon him. I have seen him gaze and then
retreat like the frightened deer … seen him shrinking from the soil and
haunts of his boyhood, bursting the strongest ties which bound him to the
earth and its pleasures. I have seen him set fire to his wigwam and smooth
over the graves of his fathers … clap his hand in silence over his mouth,
and take the last look over his fair hunting ground, and turn his face in
sadness to the setting sun. All this I have seen performed in nature’s
silent dignity … and I have seen as often the approach of the bustling,
busy, talking, whistling, hopping, elated and exulting white man, with the
first dip of the ploughshare, making sacrilegeous trespass on the bones of
the valiant dead …. I have seen the grand and irresistible march of
civilization. I have seen this splendid juggernaut rolling on and beheld its
sweeping desolation, and held converse with the happy thousands, living
as yet beyond its influence, who have not been crushed, nor yet have
dreamed of its approach.”

“They waste us, aye, like April snow,
In the warm noon we shrink away;
And fast they follow as we go
Towards the setting day,
Till they shall fill the land, and we
Are driven into the Western sea. “

“Gleaming with the setting sun
One burning sheet of living gold,
The mountain Lake beneath him rolled;
In all her length far winding lay,
With promontory, creek, and bay,
And islands that, empurpled bright,
Floated amid the livelier lights
To sentinel enchanted land.”

The Catlin Art Gallery

Osceola - Black Drink

Black Drink

Osceola’s name was derived from the Indian term “Asiyahola,”
the cry given by those taking the ceremonial black drink that was
to cleanse the body and spirit.

“This gallant fellow is grieving with a broken spirit, and ready
to die, cursing the white man, no doubt to the end of his breath.”

Comanche Village, 1834

Bow and Quiver, 1834

Buffalo Chase

  Corn – Miniconjou Warrior

Catlin, self-portrait painting an Indian chief, c. 1841
Catlin, self-portrait painting an Indian chief, c. 1841

Other Related Sites

SAAM: George Catlin’s Indian GallerySmithsonian American Art Museum

617 works by Catlin

George Catlin – Classroom Internet Library

National Portrait Gallery


Hassrick, Royal B. THE GEORGE CATLIN BOOK OF AMERICAN INDIANS 1977 Promontory Press brown cover with gilt ltg on spine. Illustration throughout with the art of George Catlin.

Catlin, George: Unter den Indianern Nordamerikas. KMJB, 1918, Nr. 1, S. 82-97.

Neumann, Heinz: Karl May und George Catlin: eine Hypothese. M-KMG, Monat 12, 1970, Nr.6, S. 19.

Ostwald, Thomas: Die Entwicklung der Indianergeschichten bei Karl May – 2. Abschnitt: Karl May und George Catlin. Graff-Anzeiger, Monat 3, 1976, Nr. 9, S. 19-23. Enth”lt hier nur Reprint aus Catlin

Ostwald, Thomas: Die Entwicklung der Indianergeschichten bei Karl May, dargestellt am
Beispiel der Wandlung Winnetous vom Gewaltmenschen zumEdelmenschen Teil IV.
Graff-Anzeiger, Monat 12, 1975, Nr. 8, S. 28-33. Mit einem Abschnitt “Karl May und George Catlin”

Poppe, Werner: Karl May und George Catlin. M-KMG, Monat 6, 1972, Nr. 12, S. 22.

Schneider, Alfred: George Catlin, Die Indianer Nordamerikas. M-KMG, Monat 6, 1973, Nr. 16, S. 30.

Wolff, Gabriele: George Catlin: Die Indianer Nord-Amerikas. Das Material zum Traum.

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