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Definition: Catlin, George (1796-1872) from Environmental History and Global Change: A Dictionary of Environmental History

American artist, traveller and writer best known for detailed paintings of N American Indians and their environment which opened up their lifestyles to the outside world on the eve of massive demographic and cultural change. Between 1830 and 1836 he visited around 50 tribes. His work, through lecture tours in the E USA and Europe, raised widespread interest in and awareness of the American environment and its native inhabitants. He was also an early advocate of the concept of national parks.


Summary Article: Catlin, George
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

1796–1872, American traveler and artist, b. Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Educated as a lawyer, he practiced in Philadelphia for two years but turned to art study and became a portrait painter in New York City. He went west c.1832 to study and paint Native Americans, and after executing numerous portraits and tribal scenes he took his collection to Europe in 1839. In 1841 he published Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians, in two volumes, with about 300 engravings. Three years later he published 25 plates, entitled Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio, and, in 1848, Eight Years' Travels and Residence in Europe. From 1852 to 1857 he traveled through South and Central America and later returned for further exploration in the Far West. The record of these later years is contained in Last Rambles amongst the Indians of the Rocky Mountains and the Andes (1868) and My Life among the Indians (ed. by N. G. Humphreys, 1909). Of his 470 full-length portraits of Native American scenes, the greater part constitutes the Catlin Gallery of the National Museum, Washington, D.C.; some 700 sketches are in the American Museum of Natural History, New York City. His observations of the Native Americans have been questioned as to accuracy. He was the first white man to see the Minnesota pipestone quarries, and pipestone is also called catlinite.

  • See Roehmer, M. C. , The Catlin Family Papers (1966);.
  • Truettner, W. H. , The Natural Man Observed: A Study of Catlin's Indian Gallery (1979).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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