Category Archives: Curator’s Corner

Remington & Impressionism

*Iconic Western painter Frederic Remington began his career drawing black and white illustrations for the most popular magazines in America. Yet he yearned to be known as an artist, not just an illustrator, and he strategically drew inspiration from the museums and art galleries of New York City.  Friends with American Impressionist Childe Hassam and a number of young American painters, Remington first saw the work of Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro and other modern French painters at the newly opened Durand-Ruel Gallery whose owner became an early proponent of French Impressionism.

Following over a century of tradition, French Academic art valued paintings of history, religion, and mythology.  The Impressionists challenged this trope by painting modern life.  They were the first generation of artists to have access to newly-invented bright, artificial paints available in new collapsible metal tubes that freed them to work out of doors.  Using visible, flickering brushstrokes, they attempted to register their sensations to light and weather.

When Remington first saw this new art, he declared, “I’ve got two maiden aunts . . .  who can knit better pictures than that.”  Yet, Remington quietly admired the brighter palette, their theories of representing light, color and shadow. He started incorporating some of these techniques into his own work while maintaining his favored subject matter–his memories of the American West frontier.  For instance, in this detail of Buffalo Runners—Big Horn Basin, the shadows under the horses are the complimentary color of the dried grass in the foreground. Likewise, he knitted into the shadow small strokes of the reflected reddish-brown of the horses. Both of these ideas Remington adapted from the Impressionists.

Detail, Frederic Remington | Buffalo Runners - Big Horn Basin | 1909 | Oil on canvas | 30 1/8 x 51 1/8 inches

Detail, Frederic Remington | Buffalo Runners – Big Horn Basin | 1909 | Oil on canvas | 30 1/8 x 51 1/8 inches

At the same time, intrigued by the concept of painting believable night scenes, first introduced to American audiences by James McNeill Whistler, Remington attempted his own night scenes, or nocturnes.  By eliminating detail, limiting his palette to black, brown, blue, green and white, Remington gave us atmospheric paintings that became some of his most famous and cherished works.  Remington stated that he did his most difficult work outside the painting, and by doing so, he hoped to challenge the viewer to use their imagination.

In the painting, A Figure of the Night, Remington framed the rider and horse with a dark, impenetrable forest in the background and the shadows of unseen trees in the foreground.  The bright blue green ground reads as snow lit by moonlight.  The foreground shadows suggest the loneliness of the rider’s situation and the potential of hidden dangers ahead.

Frederic Remington | A Figure of the Night (The Sentinel) | 1908 | Oil on canvas | 30 x 21 1/8 inches

Frederic Remington | A Figure of the Night (The Sentinel) | 1908 | Oil on canvas | 30 x 21 1/8 inches

Today, Remington’s paintings serve as visual source material for modern film-makers and historians of the Western frontier. But Remington deserves to also be acknowledged as a fine, turn-of-the-century American artist who adapted ideas and techniques from other modern artists while remaining true to his passion for the West.

Frederic Remington, The Dry Camp, 1907, Oil on canvas, 27 3/8 x 40 inches

Frederic Remington, The Dry Camp, 1907, Oil on canvas, 27 3/8 x 40 inches

*Guest blog post written by Deborah Reed, independent scholar and presenter of Monet to Remington: Impressionism’s Influence on Remington’s Late Paintings (a lecture presented at the Sid Richardson Museum, November 2015).

The Trail West

Charles M. Russell | First Wagon Trail (First Wagon Tracks) | 1908 | Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper | 18 1/4 x 27 inches

Charles M. Russell | First Wagon Trail (First Wagon Tracks) | 1908 | Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper | 18 1/4 x 27 inches

The scene from Russell’s exquisite watercolor from 1908, First Wagon Trail, would have been set in the 1840s, when wagon trains heading to west first cut paths across the plains. These warriors show little evidence of contact with whites. The wagon tracks have these men wondering what kind of sizable beast has left the tracks.

Originally, between about 1811 and 1840, one could only traverse the trails across the plains by foot or horseback. In 1836, the first wagon train was organized from Independence, Missouri, clearing a trail all the way to Fort Hall, Idaho. Eventually, wagon trains pushed farther west, creating what we now know as the Oregon Trail.

"Oregontrail 1907". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oregontrail_1907.jpg#/media/File:Oregontrail_1907.jpg

“Oregontrail 1907”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oregontrail_1907.jpg#/media/File:Oregontrail_1907.jpg

When the pioneers and explorers first reached the plains, they noticed how the country had changed. Accustomed to their forests and prairies, the travelers described the landscape as “desert.” The air became more dry, the landscape more barren – no trees, no water. The Great Plains, unattractive to settlers, remained illegal for homesteading until after 1846.

The year 1852 marked a turning point, as more people than ever before were traveling west. Those going to California alone increased from 1,100 in 1851 to 50,000 in 1852. Contributing to some of the upsurge in the westward emigration population was the rise in the number of women accompanying the wagon trains, from whom we have several written accounts of their experience. “Tonight we pitch our camp for the first time. Our campground is a beautiful little prairie, covered with grass and we feel quite at home and very independent,” wrote 17-year-old Eliza Ann McAuley in her diary on April 12, 1852 as she traveled from Iowa to California.

Today, highways like Interstate 80 roughly trace parts of the historic Oregon Trail and pass through towns across Wyoming and Nebraska that were first established to serve travelers using the old trail.

Russell vs. Wyeth

Charles M. Russell | He Snaked Old Texas Pete Right Out of His Wicky-up, Gun and All | 1905 | Watercolor, pencil & gouache on paper | 12 3/8 inches x 17 1/8 inches

Charles M. Russell | He Snaked Old Texas Pete Right Out of His Wicky-up, Gun and All | 1905 | Watercolor, pencil & gouache on paper | 12 3/8 inches x 17 1/8 inches

During the winter of 1904, while the Russells were staying with fellow illustrator John N. Marchand in New York, Charlie was not made short of work. He received several illustration jobs while in town: Scribner’s, Outing, Leslie’s, and McClure’s magazines. He Snaked Old Texas Pete Right Out of His Wicky-up, Gun and All was one of the pictures that Russell painted for McClure’s Magazine and was used to illustrate the first two installments of Stewart Edward White’s story Arizona Nights.

Stewart Edward White, “Arizona Nights,” McClure’s Magazine 26 (February 1906): 412-419.

Stewart Edward White, “Arizona Nights,” McClure’s Magazine 26 (February 1906): 412-419.

Stewart Edward White, “Arizona Nights,” McClure’s Magazine 26 (February 1906): 412-419.

Stewart Edward White, “Arizona Nights,” McClure’s Magazine 26 (February 1906): 412-419.

The famous American artist and illustrator, N.C. Wyeth illustrated the remaining installments of White’s story.  At the time, Wyeth’s mentor, the great illustrator Howard Pyle, was the magazine’s art director. Perhaps his personal preference influenced his change artist selection. Pyle turned down future requests for Russell’s illustrations, as evidenced by writer Edgar Beecher Bronson, who had appealed on Charlie’s behalf. Nancy Russell’s response to Mr. Bronson sheds some light on the issue:

We appreciate what you have done in trying to get McClure to have Chas. illustrate for them, but the art editor and I had a disagreement about some pictures about two years ago and I can understand how he would dislike to ask any favors or even to give work to Mr. Russell. We appreciate your efforts but don’t try to have Chas. illustrate anything for McClure because I know the present art editor will not have him if he can help himself.

Tellingly, all of Russell’s previous illustrations were replaced with Wyeth’s when White’s book Arizona Nights was published in 1907.

Stewart Edward White, “Arizona Nights,” McClure’s Magazine 26 (February 1906): 412-419.

Stewart Edward White, “Arizona Nights,” McClure’s Magazine 26 (February 1906): 412-419.

Remington & Russell, Retold

Remington-Russell-Retold-Exhibition-400pxW

 

Bringing to life unforgettable characters and recalling significant events have always been fundamental tasks that the artistic imagination has addressed. In Remington & Russell, Retold, native peoples, explorers, mountain men, buffalo hunters and soldiers are participants in such events as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Oregon Trail, and the Indian Wars, presenting a narrative of the 19th-century American West via 38 paintings by the preeminent storytellers of the American West, Frederic Remington (1861-1909) and Charles Russell (1864-1926).

Unfolding largely in chronological order of the year the artworks were completed, the paintings in Remington & Russell, Retold span 22 years of Remington’s career (from age 25 until his death at age 48) and 37 years of Russell’s career (age 21 – 58), bridging a combined period of the artists’ lives from 1885-1922.

When works by these two contemporaries are presented “shoulder to shoulder,” it is inevitable to reflect on the similarities and differences in their backgrounds, subject matter, points of view, styles and techniques. Remington and Russell certainly were compared during their lifetimes by the public and the press, and they still are being compared today.

Both were writers, illustrators, painters and sculptors, each producing in excess of 3000 works of art in his lifetime. Remington enjoyed a national reputation, while Russell had a loyal regional following. Though they are joined in the public’s mind as being responsible for creating America’s vision of the Western frontier, theirs was not a singular vision. Russell’s interpretation of the conflict between American settlers and native peoples favors the Indian perspective, while early works by Remington regard the Indian as savage.

While there is no documentation that the two artists ever met, it is certain they were aware of each other’s work. As recalled by his nephew, Austin Russell, Charlie Russell once said, “I bet that years from now when some art critic compares our pictures…what he’ll notice is that Russell and Remington saw the same country but not the same colors, and that’s all a difference of light.”

Charles M. Russell, Western Scene (The Shelton Saloon Painting), c. 1885, Oil on wood panel, 17 1/2 inches x 69 inches

Charles M. Russell, Western Scene (The Shelton Saloon Painting), c. 1885, Oil on wood panel, 17 1/2 inches x 69 inches

Early, mid-career and mature works of both artists are included in Remington & Russell, Retold. Of note is Western Scene, one of Russell’s first commissioned paintings, and four mid-career watercolors (each reproduced in its day in either magazines, calendars or commercial products), among them the 1908 First Wagon Tracks, last displayed in the Museum in 2005. In later works, Russell stayed true to themes he approached at a young age, and he reuses subjects and successful arrangements of figures, but with more depth and intense colors. Remington’s early days as an artist correspondent are represented in two 1886 watercolor field sketches of Buffalo Soldiers, The Ambushed Picket and The Riderless Horse. His career development as an illustrator is demonstrated in two grisailles (black-and-white oils) from 1891 to 1901, and 10 works from the last five years of his life—five dazzling sun-struck paintings and five nocturnes— representing his late career when he has abandoned his concern with detail and pared his compositions down.

Charles M. Russell | First Wagon Trail (First Wagon Tracks) | 1908 | Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper | 18 1/4 x 27 inches

Charles M. Russell | First Wagon Trail (First Wagon Tracks) | 1908 | Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper | 18 1/4 x 27 inches

Frederic Remington | The Riderless Horse | 1886 | Pencil, pen & ink, watercolor on paper | 7 7/8 x 11 7/8 inches

Frederic Remington | The Riderless Horse | 1886 | Pencil, pen & ink, watercolor on paper | 7 7/8 x 11 7/8 inches

Frederic Remington | The Ambushed Picket | 1886 | Pencil, pen & ink, watercolor on paper | 9 x 11 7/8 inches

Frederic Remington | The Ambushed Picket | 1886 | Pencil, pen & ink, watercolor on paper | 9 x 11 7/8 inches

This reconsidered pictorial survey of the exploration of the American West is as revealing about the collector as it is of the two artists who created these works. When one considers that all but four of the paintings on display (The Dry Camp, Among the Led Horses, The Love Call, and The Apaches!) were acquired by Sid Richardson, a successful oil wildcatter, it would appear that he felt a kinship with the risk-takers who won the untamed West, less so with the pioneers who settled it. Save for the occupants of the little town of Utica [A Quiet Day in Utica], there is not a painting of a homesteader family or a prairie home to be found.

Charles M. Russell, Utica (A Quiet day in Utica), 1907, Oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches

Charles M. Russell, Utica (A Quiet day in Utica), 1907, Oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches

Still, these are stories we like to “read” today.

K’nick-K’neck

From time to time, I like to break away from my office to walk through our museum galleries and enjoy the artwork that I often write about on this blog. During one of those leisurely strolls I caught a glimpse of something that was unfamiliar. In one of the paintings from our current exhibition, Take Two, I noticed a strange creature hanging from the belt of one of the figures. When I looked closely, I noticed another figure sporting a similar accessory. I then began to carefully examine the rest of the Catlin images and spotted this particular object in two more paintings. What is that?!

George Catlin | Nine Ojibbeway Indians in London | 1861 - 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

George Catlin | Nine Ojibbeway Indians in London | 1861 – 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

Nine Ojibbeway Indians in London, otter 1

Detail

Detail

Detail

“Mandan War Chief with His Favorite Wife,” George Catlin (1796-1872),  (Cartoon No. 30) Oil on card mounted on paperboard, 18 ¼ x 24 5/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, Paul Mellon Collection

“Mandan War Chief with His Favorite Wife,” George Catlin (1796-1872),
(Cartoon No. 30) Oil on card mounted on paperboard, 18 ¼ x 24 5/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, Paul Mellon Collection

Detail

Detail

It’s an otter! But why are they hanging off men’s belts or sitting around like handbags? Thus the search began to uncover this mystery. After reading through Catlin’s writings, I found my answer. In his famous Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians, of which we have a rare copy currently on display, Catlin mentions his encounters with these ornamented otters. In some instances, such as his experience with a Blackfoot brave, Pe-toh-pee-kiss (The Eagle Ribs), the otter skins were made for medicine bags. These medicine bags had great meaning and importance, so much so, that when its owner dies, it is placed in his grave and decays with his body.

“Catlin Feasted by the Mandan Chief,” George Catlin (1796-1872), (Cartoon No. 133:  The author feasted in the wigwam of Mah-to-toh-pa, the war chief of the Mandans, dining on a roast rib of buffalo and pemican.) Oil on card mounted on paperboard, 18 ¼ x 24 9/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, Paul Mellon Collection

“Catlin Feasted by the Mandan Chief,” George Catlin (1796-1872), (Cartoon No. 133:
The author feasted in the wigwam of Mah-to-toh-pa, the war chief of the Mandans, dining on a roast rib of buffalo and pemican.) Oil on card mounted on paperboard, 18 ¼ x 24 9/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, Paul Mellon Collection

Detail

Detail

Detail

Detail

A more common use for otter skins among the tribes Catlin encountered was as a pouch for k’nick-k’neck, or tobacco. The artist demonstrates this custom in his painting Catlin Feasted by the Mandan Chief. Catlin dines on roasted buffalo ribs while the Mandan Chief Four Bears prepares his pipe for an after-dinner smoke. Next to Four Bear’s foot lies his otter-skinned tobacco pouch. Another can be found on display in the foreground of the painting.

In Letter No. 16. from Catlin’s Letters and Notes, the artist describes this very scene:

I spoke in a former Letter of Mah-to-toh-pa (the four bears), the second chief of the nation, and the most popular man of the Mandans — a high-minded and gallant warrior, as well as a polite and polished gentleman. Since I painted his portrait, as I before described, I have received at his hands many marked and signal attentions; some of which I must name to you, as the very relation of them will put you in possession of many little forms and modes of Indian life, that otherwise might not have been noted.

About a week since, this noble fellow stepped into my painting-room about twelve o’clock in the day, in full and splendid dress, and passing his arm through mine, pointed the way, and led me in the most gentlemanly manner, through the village and into his own lodge, where a feast was prepared in a careful manner and waiting our arrival. The lodge in which he dwelt was a room of immense size, some forty or fifty feet in diameter, in a circular form, and about twenty feet high — with a sunken curb of stone in the center, of five or six feet in diameter and one foot deep, which contained the fire over which the pot was boiling. I was led near the edge of this curb, and seated on a very handsome robe, most ingeniously garnished and painted with hieroglyphics; and he seated himself gracefully on another one at a little distance from me; with the feast prepared in several dishes, resting on a beautiful rush mat, which was placed between us.

The simple feast which was spread before us consisted of three dishes only, two of which were served in wooden bowls, and the third in an earthen vessel of their own manufacture, somewhat in shape of a bread-tray in our own country. This last contained a quantity of pem-I-can and marrow fat; and one of the former held a fine brace of buffalo ribs, delightfully roasted; and the other was filled with a kind of paste or pudding, made of the flour of the “pomme blanche”, as the French call it, a delicious turnip of the prairie, finely flavored with the buffalo berries, which are collected in great quantities in this country, and used with divers dishes in cooking, as we in civilized countries use dried currants, which they very much resemble.

A handsome pipe and a tobacco-pouch made of the otter skin, filled with k’nick-k’neck (Indian tobacco), laid by the side of the feast; and when we were seated, my host took up his pipe, and deliberately filled it; and instead of lighting it by the fire, which he could easily have done, he drew from his pouch his flint and steel, and raised a spark with which he kindled it. He drew a few strong whiffs through it, and presented the stem of it to my mouth, through which I drew a whiff or two while he held the stem in his hands. This done, he laid down the pipe, and drawing his knife from his belt, cut off a very small piece of the meat from the ribs, and pronouncing the words “Ho-pe-ne-chee wa-pa-shee” (meaning a medicine sacrifice), threw it into the fire.

He then (by signals) requested me to eat, and I commenced, after drawing out from my belt my knife (which it is supposed that every man in this country carries about him, for at an Indian feast a knife is never offered to a guest). Reader, be not astonished that I sat and ate my dinner alone, for such is the custom of this strange land. In all tribes in these western regions it is an invariable rule that a chief never eats with his guests invited to a feast; but while they eat, he sits by, at their service, and ready to wait upon them; deliberately charging and lighting the pipe which is to be passed around after the Feast is over. Such was the case in the present instance, and while I was eating, Mah-to-toh-pa sat cross-legged before me, cleaning his pipe and preparing it for a cheerful smoke when I had finished my meal. For this ceremony I observed he was making unusual preparation, and I observed as I ate, that after he had taken enough of the k’nick-k’neck or bark of the red willow, from his pouch, he rolled out of it also a piece of the “castor,” which it is customary amongst these folks to carry in their tobacco-sack to give it a flavor; and, shaving off a small quantity of it, mixed it with the bark, with which he charged his pipe. This done, he drew also from his sack a small parcel containing a fine powder, which was made of dried buffalo dung, a little of which he spread over the top, (according also to custom,) which was like tinder, having no other effect than that of lighting the pipe with ease and satisfaction. My appetite satiated, I straightened up, and with a whiff the pipe was lit, and we enjoyed together for a quarter of an hour the most delightful exchange of good feelings, amid clouds of smoke and pantomimic signs and gesticulations.

The Push for a National Art

Our current exhibition, Take Two: George Catlin Revisits the West, features a selection of paintings from Catlin’s Second Indian Gallery. These works revisit paintings from Catlin’s First Indian Gallery, a collection of works that the artist tried to sell to the U.S. government – on several occasions.

Historically, artists in Europe and elsewhere were financially supported through commissions and patronage, often from the church or governing monarchy. Unfortunately for Catlin, the congressmen of the U.S. government generally considered artistic patronage to be a minor concern, focusing more efforts on the controversial expansion of slavery into the newly acquired western territories. But Catlin was determined to secure the patronage of the federal government.

Why did Catlin feel so strongly that the government should own and exhibit his 607 portraits and scenes of western American Indians? Guest curator and Catlin scholar Brian Dippie asserts that during this period in American history, there was a desire and campaign for a national culture and art. Naturally, no theme seemed more appropriate than that of the country’s native tribes. In fact, beginning in the early 1800s, the government was commissioning Indian portraits. Visiting Indian dignitaries would sit for their likenesses during their visit with the Great White Father in Washington.

George Catlin | O-Jib-Be-Ways | Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America. From Drawings and Notes of the Author, Made During Eight Years’ Travel Amongst Forty-Eight of the Wildest and Most Remote Tribes of Savages in North America. | ca. 1875

George Catlin | O-Jib-Be-Ways | Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America. From Drawings and Notes of the Author, Made During Eight Years’ Travel Amongst Forty-Eight of the Wildest and Most Remote Tribes of Savages in North America. | ca. 1875

In 1838, Catlin made his first attempt at persuading the American government to purchase his Indian Gallery. He set sail for England the following year without a sale. Dippie notes how newspapers mourned the loss of this national legacy while admonishing the politicians for letting this most American of collections slip through their hands. But Catlin never gave up and persistently pursued the acceptance of his paintings to a great national museum. Although this was never achieved during his lifetime, today Catlin’s First Indian Gallery now resides in the Smithsonian American Art Museum while much of his Second Indian Gallery hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

George Catlin | Wi-Jun-Jon Assineboin Chief Going to Washington and Returning | Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America. From Drawings and Notes of the Author, Made During Eight Years’ Travel Amongst Forty-Eight of the Wildest and Most Remote Tribes of Savages in North America. | ca. 1875

George Catlin | Wi-Jun-Jon Assineboin Chief Going to Washington and Returning | Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America. From Drawings and Notes of the Author, Made During Eight Years’ Travel Amongst Forty-Eight of the Wildest and Most Remote Tribes of Savages in North America. | ca. 1875

Catlin in Context

Like George Catlin and his summer excursions to the American West in the 1830s, many American painters were inspired by an adventurous lifestyle in the early 19th century. These artists experienced unspoiled terrain and wanted to convey the splendor and excitement of the nation’s wilderness. A well-known artistic movement from this period was that of the Hudson River School. American artists like Thomas Cole and Asher Durand used their canvases to capture the beauty of rural life and the sublimity of the untamed frontier. Influenced by Romanticism, their paintings present a dramatic and dreamy view of the country.

Thomas Cole, The Hunter’s Return, 1845, Oil on Canvas, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Thomas Cole, The Hunter’s Return, 1845, Oil on Canvas, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Romanticism is a term often used to describe artwork from Catlin’s period. First applied to literature around 1800, the romantic artistic movement flourished in France and Britain throughout the first half of the 19th century. Disenchanted with the Enlightenment and its values of reason and order, Romanticism stressed imagination and emotion. Artistically, the movement is not defined by one style or subject matter. As the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire wrote in 1846, “Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling.”

Distraught over the destruction of American Indian cultures, Catlin paintings appealed to mid-19th century romantics like Baudelaire, who, as mentioned previously, visited Catlin’s Indian Gallery in Paris and greatly admired the artist’s work. Through paint, Catlin conveyed a melancholic spirit as he hurried to capture and record a way of life that would be known by future generations through the visual record he was preserving.

George Catlin | Encampment of Pawnee Indians at Sunset | 1861 - 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

George Catlin | Encampment of Pawnee Indians at Sunset | 1861 – 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

George Catlin Books

In addition to the 17 paintings on loan from the National Gallery of Art, our current exhibition – Take Two: George Catlin Revisits the West – includes a selection of rare books on loan from a private collection. Catlin was both an artist and an author, writing and recording many of his observations and experiences from his travels West.Book displayletters and notes

One of the most important works on American Indians published in the 19th century was Catlin’s Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians…, which describes his travels and encounters with many tribes. Our exhibition features a rare Deluxe edition. The book is still in publication to this day. Likewise, Catlin’s Illustrations of the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians… was one of the most widely circulated works on American Indians in the 19th century. As a self-publisher, Catlin only sold enough books to break even. Unfortunately, he was unable to afford promoting his Indian Gallery and publish subsequent editions, so Catlin sold his copyright to London publisher Henry Bohn. The two volume set we currently have on display is one of the twelve copies Bohn had specially hand colored. Scholars argue that French artist Rosa Bonheur or John Cullum colored these plates by hand.

portfolios

Catlin also produced the North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America. Designed to appeal to a wealthier, more discriminating book buyer, the illustrations of this portfolio were more complicated, tinted lithographs rather than the simple line engravings of his previous books. Catlin originally intended to publish a series of portfolios, each themed: religious rites, dances, costume, etc. Again, the artist found book publishing to be a costly endeavor. He published two issues of the first portfolio. Copyright passed from his previous publisher Bohn to the London firm of Chatto & Windus, which produced the 31 plate issue we currently have on display. Catlin never finished the rest of the series.book display changeBook change

As mentioned previously, selections from these books will rotate throughout the exhibition. Last week we flipped through the pages, resulting in a new presentation of images. We hope the ever-changing book display will help illustrate the connection between Catlin’s books and his Indian Gallery and how that relationship strengthened Catlin’s life-long enterprise to preserve the Indian cultures of the American West.

Catlin in France

As mentioned previously, George Catlin painted 500 Native American portraits and scenes of everyday life of 48 Indian tribes—buffalo hunts, dances, games, amusements, rituals, and religious ceremonies—that he witnessed on summer excursions in 1832, 1834, 1835, and 1836. Collectively, these paintings exhibited as what Catlin referred to as his Indian Gallery. Our current exhibition, Take Two: George Catlin Revisits the West, features 17 paintings from the artist’s Second Indian Gallery.

George Catlin | Nine Ojibbeway Indians in London | 1861 - 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

George Catlin | Nine Ojibbeway Indians in London | 1861 – 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

After Catlin toured his collection around the U.S., he journeyed to Europe and first landed in England. Looking for a new audience, he arrived in Paris in 1845. As with his exhibition in London, where he enjoyed an audience with Queen Victoria, Catlin cultivated a close relationship with the king of France, Louis-Philippe during his stay in Paris. The French king even reserved a room in the Louvre for the display of Catlin’s Indian Gallery and scheduled a private viewing for the royal family and guests.

Later, the collection of paintings, artifacts, and Indian representatives (twelve Iowa Indians who had also joined Catlin in England), exhibited at the Salle Valentino in Paris. The reception of the French press was enthusiastic. Critics viewed the work as a genuinely American product. Many Romantic artists took note, including the poet and writer Charles Baudelaire, novelist George Sand, and painter Eugène Delacroix. Struck by his raw colors, Baudelaire took Catlin seriously as an artist and wrote two salon reviews about the American. The French poet praised the lightness of Catlin’s skies and believed the raw color and rude form of Catlin’s art bore deep and mysterious meaning. Sand would return to the exhibition more than once to talk with the Iowas. She was eager to understand their customs, their religious beliefs, and their views on French society. Delacroix made several known studies of the Indians, one of which was included in the recent exhibition Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Catlin stayed in France until 1848 when a revolution broke out resulting in the overthrow of King Louis Philippe.

Happy Birthday, Oscar!

Today marks the birthday of Oscar Berninghaus, another artist represented in our collection. Berninghaus is best known as a painter of the Southwest. Although born and raised in St. Louis, the young artist became enamored with Taos, New Mexico after his first trip West in 1899.

The same year New Mexico became a state in 1912, Berninghaus helped found the Taos Society of Artists. The other founding members include Joseph Sharp, Bert Phillips, Ernest Blumenschein, Irving Couse, and Herbert Dunton. The main mission of the Society was to promote the sale of paintings by its members. Since there wasn’t a gallery in Taos at the time, the group organized exhibitions to travel to galleries back East in major art markets like New York, Chicago, and St. Louis.

Through their efforts, the Society put Taos on the map. Painters, sculptors, writers, and other leading intellectuals flocked to the small Southwest town, including Mabel Dodge, D.H. Lawrence, Andrew Dasburg, and Georgia O’Keeffe. By the 1920s, Taos had become one of the great art centers of the world.

Many were looking to Taos as a leader of a real American style, with members of the Society receiving rave reviews. Critics claimed that Berninghaus offered work that is all-American. The horses depicted were, in their essence, American. The desert is American. His was a “real” American art.

Oscar E. Berninghaus, The Forty-Niners, Before 1942, Oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 36 1/4 inches

Oscar E. Berninghaus, The Forty-Niners, Before 1942, Oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 36 1/4 inches