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George Catlin: American Indian Portraits

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by Bryony Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
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Faces of 19th Native Americans
fast dancer, national portrait gallery, george caitlin, american indian portraits
Wash-Ka-Mon-Ya Fast Dancer by Isaac by George Catlin, 1844

Born in 1796, George Catlin was a Pennsylvanian painter, who went off the explore the western frontier. His interest in American Indians was first ignited when his mother recounted a point in her childhood when she was captured by tribal men. This interest was kindled further when he saw a group of Native Americans travelling through Philadelphia.

During the 1830s Catlin decided to tour the west in order to make a documentation of the Native American way of life. Making a total of five visits, his trips culminated in what has become one of the most extensive, evocative and important records of the indigenous peoples ever made.

Catlin painted over fifty portraits of people from the tribes he met, and now for the first time, they are being displayed outside America. The exhibition, George Catlin: American Indian Portraits, is being shown at the National Portrait Gallery until the 23rd June, and includes a number of varied events. They are all free to attend, but need to be booked in advance.

Philosophy Salon
21st March, 7pm

A philosophical discussion exploring issues of cultural representation and the creation of image and identity through portraiture and performance.

Visualising Portraits
28th March, 2pm

A visual description of the portraits for the visually impaired.

Man Ray Portraits and George Catlin: American Indian Portraits
8th April, 6.30pm-8.30pm

A members-only private viewing.

Film: Shelley Niro Series 1
25th April, 7pm-8.30pm

The film bymulti-disciplinary artist, Shelley Niro notions of identity, power, sexuality, and society.

Film: Shelley Niro Series 2
3rd, 6.30pm-8.30pm

Shelley Niro's feature length film, Kissed by Lightening is inspired by an ancient Iroquois tale, and follows a Six Nations Mohawk artist who grieves for her lost husband.

In Conversation: Catlin's 'Vanishing Indians' and The Politics of Indian Agency
9th May, 7pm

A discussion exploring the influences of Catlin's work and the responses from 19th century critics.

Edgar Heap of Birds
17th May, 6pm-8pm

The conceptual artist, Edgar Heap of Birds explores language, memory, and the relationship between non-Indian historical accounts and Native American memory.

23rd & 30th May, 7.30pm

A guided tour of the exhibit.

In Conversation: The Frontier Myth, Cowboys & Indians
30th May, 7pm

A discussion about how the popular mythology of cowboys and Indians was created.
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Why? An interesting exploration of American Indian Culture
When: Until 23rd June
Phone: 020 7306 005
Where: National Portrait Gallery
Cost: Free
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