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The Natural Man Observed
A Study of Catlin's Indian Gallery
By: William H. Truettner
In this comprehensive book, William Truettner moves well beyond the usual uncritical treatment of Catlin and his famous Indian paintings to a study of the artist as a person and as an "artist-naturalist," examining in the process Catlin's scientific and cultural background and outlining his long and often ill-fated pursuit of success and recognition.
An underlying purpose of this stimulating, thoughtful book is to investigate carefully the circumstances and influences that lay behind Catlin's extraordinary career. The artist himself would have had us believe that he was indebted to no individuals, institutions, ideas, or traditions -- but this could not have been true, as the author points out. Indeed, Catlin was much more aware of Philadelphia natural history studies of the early nineteenth century and of the prevailing literary trends than he perhaps realized or wished to admit. Nor was he entirely self-taught, as he claimed; his early works fall easily into accepted period styles. Furthermore, Catlin had not been overly successful in competing with his artist colleagues before his rather sudden conversion to painting portraits of Indians. From the time he settled on his career and embarked for the West, however, Catlin was a dedicated man. No artist felt a greater urgency to compile a visual record before it was too late of the tribes who still lived beyond the rapidly advancing frontier of white settlement, John C. Ewers, a Smithsonian senior ethnologist and one of the world's leading authorities on the American Indian, writes in his Forward. "And no artist of the pre-camera period traveled more widely among as any different tribes or made as many portraits and scenes of Indians from life as did Catlin," Ewers adds.
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