George Catlin, a lawyer turned portrait painter, has been called “the dean of American Indian painters.” He was the first artist of stature to travel the North American plains for the purpose of making a documentary record of the primitive Indian tribes.
Catlin successfully fulfilled commissions for portraits of famous people of his time like DeWitt Clinton, General Sam Houston and Dolley Madison. Then, his association with William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition led Catlin’s footsteps toward the west.
In the years immediately preceding the first westward migration, he wandered virtually alone and painted among some 48 tribes of North American Indians. Sometimes, he was the first white man tribal members had ever seen, and they permitted him to live with them and to witness and record their daily lives and most secret ceremonies in meticulous.
Catlin made the most comprehensive pictorial record we have of the Native American people in their natural state. His record includes portraits of the most notable chiefs, warriors, medicine men and women. He also compiled a detailed and comprehensive written record to supplement his pictures.
George Catlin lived and died a poor man. However, he was well-received overall by the Indian tribes, and tribal dignitaries readily posed for many of his portraits.