Expedition Encamped on a Texas Prairie. April 1686 by George Catlin
About the Work
Catlin's "27 canvas paintings of LaSalle's discoveries" were technically not part of his Cartoon Collection. They were painted in the years 1846-48 in hopes of securing the patronage of the king of France, Louis-Philippe. They failed in that respect. The king was forced off the throne in the Revolution of 1848. This sent Catlin hurrying back to the safety of Britain, his original Indian Gallery in tow, leaving behind the historical paintings of Sieur de La Salle's exploration of the Mississippi River. He would later reclaim them, but did not exhibit the paintings publicly until 1870 in Brussels. They fulfilled Catlin's ambition to be an historical painter, working from imagination informed by his direct observation of Indians he encountered in the 1830s, uncorrupted by Western influence, who resembled those encountered by the French explorer a century and a half before. The La Salle series suffers from the stilted posturing of a multitude of figures (4,000 to 5,000, Catlin estimated) in explorer mode, striking poses and playing to the camera like a crowd of Hollywood extras. Expedition Encamped on a Texas Prairie avoids such histrionics. The second to last painting in the series is one of the most attractive and provides a good note on which to close. Through it, we envision George Catlin, living abroad but dreaming of the American West he had visited more than a decade earlier, and of Texas as it was, when the world was young and green.