George CATLIN (1796-1872). Catlin's National Gallery.
Autograph Manuscript on three pages of folio size. Signed and dated by the author “Catlin's Gallery by himself, June 25th 1839”.
A draft of paper intended either as promotional material or as an argument for the Federal government to buy his collection, a dream Catlin long pursued without success - only after his death did the Smithsonian Institution acquire their Catlin works by gift from the widow of Joseph Harrison of Philadelphia, to whom Catlin had become indebted. The “Indian Gallery” included not only pictures but a variety of artifacts collected by Catlin in his visits to many tribes, exhibited to the curious in large Eastern cities.
Referring to himself in the third person, he is seen herein pleading for support of his art. “…stimulated by an ardent and enthusiastic desire to perpetuate something more than the mere History…of Indian life, Mr. Catlin set out for the wilderness…8 or 9 year since, with his brushes and his canvass - leaving friends and relations and the pleasures of civilized life, whilst he threw himself amidst the dangers & difficulties…of the Western Regions, with the hope and determination of reaching every tribe of Indians in North America and returning with portraits of the Chiefs and Warriors…views of their villages - paintings of their Religious Rites - their games and amusements - and specimens of their own manufactures…to form a Gallery Unique, as a living & lasting monument to a noble yet unenlightened race who are rapidly passing away…” The artist has beheld, with deep distress, the rapid decay of the Red Men of the Forest, who are doomed to wither and die at the approach of the Civilized World…he had…reached 47 different Tribes…brought home with him the portraits & every thing else which could contribute to a just and perfect description of the Conditions, History & Customs of each tribe. His gallery now contains 300 portraits in oil, and 200 other paintings of landscapes of the Indian regions…”
“That the numerous Tribes…are soon to be erased from the face of the Earth…is a fact conceded by all…it is to be presumed that all will applaud the persevering efforts which have been made by an individual single handed, to rescue from oblivion their looks & customs & manufactures…the vagueness & strangeness of Indian history would otherwise appear like vain and visionary tales of romance without the stamp of truth or reality. “
“It has undoubtedly been the continual expectation of the collector of this truly National Museum, that the Government or some institution of this country would reward him, for his labours, and treasure it up as part of the Country's History, thereby…furnishing him with the means & encouragement to carry out his ambition by making further explorations and adding…the remaining Tribes which he has not yet reached.”
“This Gallery is now exhibiting in the Stuyvesant Institute from whence it is to be removed in a very short time, & in all probability no other chance of examining its contents can be had in this Country.” Catlin indeed to ok his exhibit to England late in 1839, from where he continued is attempts to effect purchase by the United States. A series of unfortunate reverses took the paintings out of his hands, however, and he did not live to see the result he sought for so many years.