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March 8, 2013 7:21 pm
Born in Pennsylvania in 1796, the artist and writer George Catlin made five expeditions up the Mississippi river in the 1830s, observing indigenous communities from North Dakota to Oklahoma with a beady ethnographer’s eye. This image of a brooding chief of the Blood Tribe Blackfoot in his rich tribal regalia was painted at Fort Union in 1832. Considered Catlin’s masterpiece, it was entered into the Paris Salon in 1846, where its ”free character and noble expression” caught the attention of the poet Charles Baudelaire. Catlin’s mission was to document every tribe of the “vanishing race” threatened by America’s westward expansion. By the time of Catlin’s death in 1872, his “Indian Gallery” contained over 600 paintings.
‘George Catlin: American Indian Portraits’ is at the National Portrait Gallery, London, until June 23; www.npg.org.uk
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