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George Catlin papers, undated

Catlin, George, 1796-1872


The papers of George Catlin in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2005 from 2 reels of microfilm. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 2,360 images.

Funding for the digitization of the microfilm of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 2.3 Linear feet

Summary: The collection comprises 2.3 feet of papers concerning George Catlin's creation and promotion of his famed "Indian Gallery" of paintings, drawings, and artifacts of North American Indians. Dating from 1821 through 1904, with one item dated 1946, the papers include letters, notebooks and journals, receipt books and loose receipts, printed materials, and other documentation. The bulk of the collection focuses on Catlin's efforts to promote the sale of his gallery to the United States government through tours, including London and Paris, and petitions to various governments to purchase the Gallery. Among the rare printed catalogs and petitions in the collection are exhibition catalogs for the U.S., London, and Paris tours, the earliest dating from 1837. Letters and other documents include letters dating from the 1830s from Henry Clay, Thomas Sully, and William Henry Seward commending Catlin's work, as well as Catlin family correspondence and papers dating from 1821 through the 1870s.

Biographical/Historical Note

George Catlin was born in 1796 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Although trained as a lawyer, Catlin quit his law practice and moved to Philadelphia in 1823 to begin a career as a portrait painter. He gained membership in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1824, but his career in formal portraiture met with little success. In 1830, Catlin embarked upon his lifetime achievement of documenting the lives, customs, and culture of the declining native American population of the Plains. He spent the next six years traveling, drawing, painting, and writing about the Plains Indians. By 1837, he had amassed enough documentation to hold a major exhibition in New York of Catlin's Indian Gallery of Portraits, Landscapes, Manners and Customs, Costumes, etc. The same exhibition, with an added live show, traveled to London in 1842 and Paris in 1845, where it was met with rave reviews.


The papers of George Catlin were transferred to the Archives of American Art by the Library of the Smithsonian's National Collection of Fine Arts, now the Smithsonian's American Art Museum. Accession records indicate that the papers were once maintained by the Smithsonian's Bureau of Ethnology and were probably part of the orginal 1879 acquisition of Catlin's Indian Gallery by the Smithsonian. Businessman Joseph Harrison rescued the "Indian Gallery" from Catlin's creditors in the 1850s and stored the collection in a Philadelphia warehouse, where it suffered damage from at least two fires before Harrison's widow donated the collection to the Smithsonian.

Related Materials

Language Note

English .


Funding for the digitization of the microfilm of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.