George Catlin
See-non-ty-a, an Iowa Medicine Man, 1844/1845
Oil on canvas
27 15/16 x 22 13/16 in. (71 x 58 cm)
Paul Mellon Collection 1965.16.346
Image Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington


Throughout the 1830s, George Catlin made numerous journeys to the western frontier, visiting more than 140 American Indian tribes and completing more than 500 paintings of Native Americans. Combining these paintings with an array of drawings, sketches, and artifacts, Catlin assembled a vast traveling collection known as the “Indian Gallery.” In his portraits of prominent individuals, such as this Medicine Man of the Iowa tribe, Catlin aimed to capture the dignity and nobility of America’s native population, whose traditional customs and way of life were increasingly threatened during the 19th century. The Indian Removal Act, passed in 1830 around the time of Catlin’s first western sojourn, enforced a mandatory mass migration that pushed Native Americans further westward and exerted pressure on them to adapt or perish. While the artist ultimately went bankrupt after numerous failed attempts to gain government patronage, his Indian Gallery, later purchased and donated to the Smithsonian Institution, represents a cultural treasure, offering valuable insight into Native American life and documenting a difficult chapter in American history.


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