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"That Indian Gallery"

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That Indian Gallery

Of Catlin's—which he made and gathered with such infinite trouble—is now in the Louvre at Paris!1 More than forty of our Indian Tribes are represented in this collection; and the extraordinary genius and enthusiasm of Mr. Catlin impelled him, in defiance of difficulties, and at the peril of his life, to devote eight years among the bold and intractable aborigines2 of the West, to secure faithful and spirited representations of their persons, costumes, manners, ceremonies, and the scenes in which they live. His chief ambition now is to see his works protected by the government, and to enlarge and complete them, in memory of a powerful race, who once owned the soil we cultivate, in honor to his country, and to the art that he has cultivated with such eminent success.

Our accomplished artist Mr. Healy speaks of the pictures of Mr. Catlin as a "precious collection"3; general opinion appears to be strongly in favor of their purchase by Congress, and no little regret will be felt, should the offer of Mr. Catlin fail to be accepted the present session. Indeed, from what we learn of Mr. Catlin's views, (and especially that he has been unfortunate, by no fault of his, in bringing out his late splendid work,) and that he is urged by liberal proposals to fix his collection in England,4 we fear unless Government act promptly, we shall never again have the opportunity of restoring to our country these paintings and memorials, so emphatically American, and of such decided importance to Art and to our national History.


1. Painter and collector George Catlin (1796–1872) received one of his most valuable gestures of support when Louis–Philippe, King of France, arranged for him to exhibit his Indian Gallery in the Louvre in Paris in 1845. To this day this remains the largest one-person exhibition by an American artist ever to be held there and garnered praise from such luminaries as George Sand, Eugène Delacroix, and Charles Baudelaire. See Dippie,Catlin and His Contemporaries, 120–21; Joan Carpenter Troccoli, "George Catlin: An American Artist at Home and Abroad," in Stephanie Pratt and Joan Carpenter Troccoli, George Catlin: American Indian Portraits (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2013), 37–39. [back]

2. See "Memorials of the Red Men," July 9, 1846, n. 3. [back]

3. Painter George Peter Alexander Healy (1813–1894) was one of more than a dozen American artists, some of them living abroad, who petitioned Congress in 1846 to support Catlin's latest attempt to persuade the government to purchase his Indian collection. And while Congress' Committee on the Library recommended that the recently enacted Smithsonian bill be amended to provide funds to purchase Catlin's collection for $65,000 in annual installments of $10,000, the bill died when Congress failed to act before the end of the session. A renewed attempt in 1847 also failed. Dippie, Catlin and His Contemporaries, 111–19. [back]

4. On Catlin's attempts to secure a buyer for his collection while in Europe see Dippie, Catlin and His Contemporaries, 112. [back]

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