GEORGE CATLIN (American, 1796-1872) CATLIN’S NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN PORTFOLIO, FIRST EDITION, PUB. EGYPTIAN HILL PICCADILLY, LONDON, 1844. Comprising 25 hand finished colored lithographed plates, each mounted on stiff paperboard. From the printed title page “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.” Each plate loosely contained in the original maroon oilcloth folio cover with leather spine and embossed leather name plate and accompanied by the printed loose folio companion piece with a 2 page preface to the reader and narrative text describing each of the folios plates in great detail. Images 12.5 inches x 17.5 inches. Overall 18.5 inches x 23.5 inches.
The offered lot is a large folio which Catlin intended to be the first of a series, but only this one volume was produced. Convinced that Westward expansion spelled certain disaster for native peoples, Catlin viewed his work as a way to “rescue from oblivion their primitive looks and customs.” He was the first artist to record the Plains Indians in their own territories and he admired them as the embodiment of an ideal Enlightened natural man – living in harmony with nature. At the same time, Catlin’s paintings capture the fateful encounter of two different cultures undergoing dramatic transformation. When Catlin first traveled West in 1830, the United States Congress had just passed the Indian Removal Act, which required Indians in the Southeast to resettle west of the Mississippi River. This forced migration began to create pressure on the Indian cultures to either adapt or perish. Between 1830 and 1837, he painted three-hundred portraits of dignitaries from forty-eight tribes, as well as 175 landscapes. Catlin began displaying his "Indian Gallery" in eastern capitals and in Europe, an advocate for the Indian way of life. Yet the challenge of keeping his collection together and making ends meet led him to questionable strategies. He courted audiences by presenting real Indians enacting war dances. In effect, Catlin created the first Wild West show, with all its compromising sensationalism and exploitation. He held successful exhibitions in London, Brussels and Paris, but the expense of shipping himself, his entourage, and his enormous collection—which weighed eight tons and included two live bears—kept him perpetually in debt and in 1852 he was thrown into a London debtors’ prison. Today Catlin's work is recognized as a great cultural treasure, offering rare insight into native cultures and a crucial chapter in American history.