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CATLIN, GEORGE. 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. 25 tinted lithographed plates by Day & Haghe, letterpress title-page and descriptive text separately backed with original green cloth. Folio, 24x17 1/2 inches, publisher's aubergine calf and green pebbled cloth portfolio, gilt morocco title piece to upper cover, light wear, cloth ties perished; scattered marginal spotting and light edge wear; a pure set in attractive original condition. London: George Catlin and J. E. Adlard, 1844 [but circa 1855]
During the 1830's George Catlin traveled the Great Plains of the American West, absorbing the ways of the North American Indian tribes he found still flourishing there. Catlin's purpose was to create a faithful visual study of the people, customs, and surroundings of the tribes he was welcomed by; a goal the self-taught artist unequivocally achieved.
Disillusioned by his brief profession as a lawyer, Catlin "deliberately sold my law library (save my rifle and fishing-tackle), and, converting their proceeds into brushes and paint-pots, I commenced the art of painting in Philadelphia, without teacher or adviser." After a few short years as a practicing artist, Catlin chanced to observe a delegation of "dignified-looking Indians from the wilds of the Far West" visiting the city of Philadelphia, a sight which would inspire his life's work. Catlin summarizes his reflection of that moment and his ambitious pursuits in the preface to the present portfolio: "Man, in the simplicity and loftiness of his nature, unrestrained and unfettered by the disguises of art, is surely the most beautiful model for the painter; and the country from which he hails is unquestionably the best school of the Arts in the world, and such I am sure, from the models I have seen, is the wilderness of America. 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." "With these views firmly fixed, armed, equipped, and supplied, I started out in the year 1832, and penetrated the vast and pathless wilds which are familiarly denominated "The Great Far West" of the American continent, over the almost boundless Prairies and through the Rocky Mountains, with a light heart, inspired with an enthusiastic hope and reliance that I could meet and overcome all the hazards and privations of a life devoted to the production of a literal and graphic delineation of the living manners, customs and character of an interesting race of people, who are rapidly passing away from the face of the Earth; lending a hand to a dying nation, who have no historians or biographers of their own, to pourtray with fidelity their native looks and history; thus snatching from approaching oblivion what could be saved for the benefit of posterity, and perpetuating it as a just monument to the memory of a truly lofty and noble race".
This published portfolio of lithographs represents only a small sampling of the hundreds of images Catlin produced during his years living on the plains; but of his unique ethnographic record, these are some of his finest. Bennett 22; Howes C-243; Sabin 11532; Reese "The Production of Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio".