CATLIN, George (1796-1872). Plate No. 20 Antelope Shooting

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Hand-colored lithograph heightened with gum arabic by John McGahey (active 1835–1855) after George Catlin (1796-1872) printed by Day & Haghe

From the first edition of Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Praries 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. London: Geo. Catlin, Egyptian Hall, 1844

Paper dimensions: approximately 16 ½ x 22 ¾ inches

Catlin provided the following description to accompany this subject:

Plate No. 20.
ANTELOPE SHOOTING
The Antelope (Furcifer) of the prairies and Rocky Mountains of America, which I to be believe different from all other known varieties, forms on of the most pleasing living ornaments of the Western World. Their flesh, which is excellent food, contributes essentially to the Indians larder; and the modes of hunting them, much to his amusement. They are met in some parts in incredible numbers, sporting and playing about the hills and dales; and often, in flocks of fifty or hundred, will follow the boat of the descending voyageur on the Missouri, or the travelling caravan, for hours together. keeping off at a safe distance on the right or left, galloping up and down the hills, blowing their noses, and stamping with their feet, as if they were endeavouring to remind the traveller through those realms of the wicked trespass he was making on their own hallowed ground.
These beautiful and delicate little animals seem to be endowed, like many other “ gentle and sweet-breathing creatures,” with an undue share of curiosity, often leading them to a sort of voluntary destruction; and the hunter who wishes to entrap them easily does so without taking the trouble of travelling after them. For this purpose, when he been discovered by them, he has only to elevate above the tops of the grass, on the point of an arrow or his ramrod stuck in the ground, a little red or yellow flag, the lightness of which will keep it trembling in the wind, to which they are sure to advance, though with great coyness and caution; whilst the hunter lies close, at a little distance to the right or the left, with his rifle or bow in his hand, when it is quite easy to bring down two or three at a shot, which he has ranged under his eye and pierced with one arrow or bullet.

In the landscape view in this plate, (which, as in all the preceding ones, is a picture from Nature,) a striking resemblance is seen to the noble Park scenery in England; and the resemblance is forcibly heightened by the group that is dancing over it.

George Catlin (1796-1872)

George Catlin was the earliest great artist to travel extensively among the Plains Indians of North America and visually record their customs and artifacts. Through the important body of paintings and graphics he created and his carful written observations he sought to persuade his contemporaries that Native American culture should be honored and preserved.  

In 1830 Catlin began his first journey up the Missouri River accompanying General William Clark on a diplomatic mission into Native American territory. His travel was inspired by his longstanding interest in Native American culture and by his observation of a delegation of Native Americans who were on their way to Washington, D.C. In doing so left behind earlier careers as a Philadelphia attorney and a portrait miniaturist. His goal was perhaps best expressed in the preface to the first edition of his North American Indian Portfolio: "The history and customs of such a people, preserved by pictorial illustrations, are themes worthy 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."

St. Louis became Catlin’s base of operations for five trips he took between 1830 and 1836, eventually visiting fifty tribes, the Pawnee, Omaha, Ponca, Mandan, Hidatsa, Cheyenne, Crow, Assiniboine, and Blackfeet among them.

The artist’s hundreds of portraits, scenes, and landscapes and extensive collection of Indian artifacts he accumulated on his excursions became famous as Catlins “Indian Gallery", when it started touring the United States in 1837 and prior to its London debut two years later.

Having established a name for himself with the success of the “Indian Gallery”, Catlin focused his attention on finishing his first book, The Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians… which first appeared in the autumn of 1841. This book was to become one of the most important works on American Indians published in the 19th century. Catlin's project filled a great need.  Following Lewis & Clark's celebrated expedition up the Missouri River into the Pacific Northwest, Europeans read avidly of the sights and experiences of the voyage.  They traced the route followed by the explorers, using the map that accompanied the wildly popular printed volumes on the journey.  

Lacking, however, from the accounts of the expedition of Lewis and Clark was pictorial documentation and its audience (both American and European) were unable to visualize the journey. This lacuna meant that the people, landscapes, and customs of the vast American frontier remained abstract ideas, much less vividly imaginable to anyone who had not personally experienced the voyage. When first issued in 1844, Catlin’s portfolio presented animated, colorful, sympathetic views of Native Americans finally filled the void of imagery.  

Its arrival brought about the ability for Europeans and Americans to visualize the people and customs of whom they had read so extensively, and to gain a level of respect for the Native Americans, so often feared, misunderstood or misrepresented.  The artist's stunning lithographs ranged from portraits to depictions of tribal ceremonies, from the anecdotal to the idealized.  Catlin appealed to his readers with the thrill of the hunt and the mystery of ritual, and conveyed his respect for his subjects masterfully.  The immediacy of his images is irresistible, drawing viewers into the scenes and portraits with unprecedented intimacy.  But even when Catlin issued the North American Indian Portfolio, just fifteen years after his expedition, his crusade to preserve America's "Noble Savage" was failing.  The Indians were beginning to give way to the expansion of the American frontier and to European disease.  Because most of Catlin's paintings and collections were destroyed by fire or neglect, his lithographs remain the principal medium by which his message was conveyed, and they have come to hold even greater significance today than when they were first published.

Description compiled by Erik Brockett who is pleased to provide additional information relating to this or other examples of the work of George Catlin available at Arader Galleries. He can be contacted at erikbrockett@aradergalleries.com