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Man, in the simplicity and loftiness of his nature, unrestrained and unfettered by disguises of art, is surely the most beautiful model for the painter — and the country from which he hails is unquestionably the best study or school of the arts in the world... and the history and customs of such a people, preserved by pictorial illustrations, are themes worthy the lifetime of one man, and nothing short of the loss of my life shall prevent me from visiting their country, and becoming their historian.- George CatlinGeorge Catlin was an artist, writer, historian, reporter, explorer, trailblazer, anthropologist, and geologist, crusader, businessman, opportunist and also is considered to be a pioneer in American ethnography (the study of specific cultures). He also is credited with the first "national park idea."George Catlin was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1796. Indians exerted a strong influence on Catlin's life from an early age. As a youngster, Catlin enjoyed collecting Indian relics.Following in his father's footsteps, Catlin was trained as a lawyer, and was also a self-taught artist. He painted portraits of political figures and was commissioned for a group portrait of the Virginia Constitutional Convention in Richmond, in 1829.In 1830, the Indian Removal Act was passed, which forced the Five Civilized Tribes (Seminole, Chickisaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Cherokee) out of the land they had lived on for generations. Many died on that journey, which came to be known as the Trail of Tears. Like many others, Catlin believed that Native Americans were a vanishing race.Thus moved, he made the significant decision to leave his law practice and devote himself entirely to his art. In 1831, Catlin packed his paintbrushes and began his arduous journey through the remote and wild frontier, to become a historian of American Indians, and document their traditional Native culture.Catlin traveled to St. Louis and became friends with General William Clark, who 25 years earlier, had joined with Meriwether Lewis to lead an expedition across the continent in search of all-water route to the Pacific Ocean. This was the first steamboat voyage up the Missouri.From 1830 to 1836, Catlin traveled thousands of miles and visited more than 50 tribes from present-day North Dakota to Oklahoma. He was the first artist to document the Plains Indians in their own territory.Catlin's art and writings illustrate Indian cultures on the edge of radical change, which would come with U.S. He even had an audience with Queen Victoria.Although Catlin is most famous for his paintings of the American West and its inhabitants, his travels in the 1830s were not his only adventures. He also traveled extensively in South America and journeyed along the North American west coast as far as the Aleutian Islands and into Siberia.Today, Catlin's Indian Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is recognized as a great cultural treasure. His paintings also are part of the permanent collection at the National Gallery of Art and the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Approximately 450 paintings are extant today.
See Frederic Remington.