Patricia K. Craig and Barbara D. Aikens
Scope and Contents note
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.
Of particular interest in the collection are letters to and from Catlin, including two written by Catlin during his early travels to the west in the 1830s. Other letters include ones from Henry Clay, John Adams Dix, Ralph Randolph Gurley, James Hall, William Henry Seward, Thomas Sully (illustrated), and Baron Friederich von Humbolt, among others. Most wish Catlin well and offer support in his endeavors to sell his collection.
Also found within the collection are several notebooks and notes describing Native American ceremonies, name translations, customs, and other information pertinent to Catlin's catalog, two volume book, and exhibitions of the "Indian Gallery." There are also numerous loose receipts and account and receipt books documenting the 1840s London and Paris venues of the "Indian Gallery" exhibition. The collection also houses printed catalogs for the exhibitions, including a rare 1837 catalog for the first show in New York.
Additional materials include certificates of authenticity testifying to the authenticity of Catlin's paintings from life of Native American sitters, announcements relating to exhibition openings, printed memorials and petitions to Congress, printed letters of support, envelopes and name cards, and handwritten tickets to Catlin lectures. Also found are a handwritten journal of Theodore B. Catlin, photogravures of Catlin, obituaries for Catlin, and printed reviews of the exhibitions.
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 Archival Materials note
The Archives holds several related collections of differing provenances related to George Catlin, including a small collection of manuscripts and drawings microfilmed on reel 1191 related to Catlin's work in marine art and documentation. A microfilmed loan of circa 500 items is also available on reel 3277 of letters between Catlin and Sir Thomas Phillipps, 1840-1860, writings by Catlin and material on Catlin's Indian Gallery, including clippings, catalogs, handbills, invitations, drawings and portrait sketches of native Americans, and printed material; a watercolor sketchbook; a list of paintings; and miscellany. Also found within the Archives is one undated letter microfilmed on reel D8 from Catlin, and a collection of art historian William Truettner's research papers on George Catlin.
Funding for the digitization of the microfilm of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
The collection was processed by Patricia K. Craig in 2001. The microfilm was digitized in 2005 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.