Attacking the Grizzly Bear

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North American Indian Portfolio

George Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio features stunning lithographs which capture Native American history. Field describes the lithographs as “beautiful scenes in Indian life [that] are probably the most truthful ever presented to the public.” The full title reads 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.

This is afolio lithograph that was published in London circa 1875 for George Catlin by Day & Haghe as part of Reese’s fourth issue. The lithographs are considered to be from the best edition which are mounted on card and feature original hand-coloring to imitate watercolors. The lithographs were printed by Day & Haghe from a selection of the greatest images from Catlin’s travels.

George Catlin’s Portfolio marks a noteworthy moment in American history. Catlin traveled extensively chronicling the lives and culture of Indians across America. He created nearly 500 paintings of which some were used to make prints for this momentous work. Catlin described his need to do this work in that “the history and customs of such a people, preserved by pictorial illustrations, are themes worthy of the lifetime of one man, and nothing short of the loss of my life shall prevent me from visiting their country and becoming their historian.” Original images of Native Americans are uncommon from the 19th century, and Catlin’s are among the most detailed and impressive.

Catlin summarized the Native American as “an honest, hospitable, faithful, brave, warlike, cruel, revengeful, relentless, — yet honourable, contemplative and religious being.” In a famous passage from the preface of his North American Indian Portfolio, Catlin describes how the sight of several tribal chiefs in Philadelphia led to his resolution to record their way of life: “the history and customs of such a people, preserved by pictorial illustrations, are themes worthy of the lifetime of one man, and nothing short of the loss of my life shall prevent me from visiting their country and becoming their historian.” He saw no future for either their way of life or their very existence, and with these thoughts always at the back of his mind he worked, against time, setting himself a truly punishing schedule, to record what he saw. From 1832 to 1837 he spent the summer months sketching the tribes and then finished his pictures in oils during the winter. The record he left is unique, both in its breadth and also in the sympathetic understanding that his images constantly demonstrate.

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