Lewis’s Aboriginal Portfolio – Volume with 69 Originally Hand-colored Lithographs


Product No. lewis-aboriginal-portfolio

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The Aboriginal Portfolio

This volume with 69 originally hand-colored lithographs is from one of the rarest Indian works, James Otto Lewis’s The Aboriginal Portfolio. It was the first collection of portraits of North American Indians preceding both Catlin and McKenney & Hall’s works. George Lehman & Peter S. Duval published the Portfolio in Philadelphia between 1835 and 1836. Lewis was responsible with the images with hand-coloring completed by Lehman & Duval.

The work has 69 of the originallly hand-colored lithograph plates. It is expertly bound to style in dark purple half morocco over period purple cloth boards, spine with raised bands in six compartments, all edges are stained red. The work was originally issued in ten parts in total, but the end of the run was reduced in size due to struggling sales and the impending release of McKenney & Hall’s competing project. This limited distribution of the final parts make the publication “famously rare.” (Reese) Only three complete sets with 80 plates are known to have been sold at auction. This copy, containing 69 plates and the three letterpress prospectus advertisement leaves, is a strong representation of Lewis’s project.

The Aboriginal Portfolio is the first published portrait collection of prominent Native American leaders, made “on the spot and in the field.” “Lewis is about to publish in numbers, a collection of Indian lithographic portraits taken by him during a residence of about fifteen years among the various tribes of the west. He has succeeded in obtaining numerous portraits, all of which are remarkably true to nature. Some of the lithographs we have examined, and we are sure that they are well calculated to excite interest.” – St. Louis Commercial Bulletin, May 18, 1835.

James Otto Lewis (1799-1858) was born in Philadelphia. He studied in St. Louis and became an engraver in portraitist. He moved to Detroit later, when in 1823 the governor of Michigan, Lewis Cass, asked him to paint Tens-qua-ta-wa, a Shawnee prophet, in an official diplomatic delegation to the city (plate 67). Cass sent the portrait to Thomas L. McKenney, Superintendent of Indian Fairs, with the request he become the official government portraitist of Indian councils in the Great Lakes region.

Lewis’s work was also the first large work to deal with a subject beyond the East Coast and also one of the earliest American lithography projects. Lewis painted Indians on his travels with Michigan Governor Lewis Cass. They went on four Indian treaty expeditions in the Great Lakes regions. Unfortunately, like McKenney & Hall’s work, Lewis’s original paintings were destroyed in the Smithsonian fire of 1865.

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