George Catlin (1796–1872)
From Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology
Two years ago Story of the Week featured a report written by showman P. T. Barnum, describing how in 1845 he and Tom Thumb took Paris by storm, finagled an audience with the royal family, and jumped through the bureaucratic hoops required for public exhibitions. Almost immediately following Barnum and Thumb’s premiere came George Catlin, who brought five hundred paintings of American Indians, along with a regiment of real-life “Ioways” dressed in full regalia. The back-to-back visits were just two of a first wave of nineteenth-century American “curiosities or exotics—les sensations américaines” that David McCullough describes in his book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.
Six year earlier, unable to sell his paintings in the United States, George Catlin left for Europe and first tried his luck in London, giving lectures and pitching his artwork to potential patrons. It was there he ran into delegations of Ojibwas and Iowas who were already in England on their own dime, putting on shows dressed in feathers and paint. “Catlin invited them to join him,” writes McCullough, “and strongly resented—then and later—those who denounced him for exploiting the Indians.” Eventually, the Ojibwas returned to America, and off to Paris went Catlin and the Iowas, including their translator Jeffrey Doraway (an African American who had been raised among the Indians), the medicine man known as the Doctor, the warrior Jim, and their promoter George H. C. Melody. Like Barnum and Thumb, Catlin arranged an audience with the royal family and experienced his own problems with French bureaucracy—and ended up creating a sensation unlike any other impression by an American painter in Paris, before or since.
On the morning of the day for their reception the long stem of a beautiful pipe had been painted a bright blue and ornamented with blue ribbons, emblematical of peace, to be presented by the chief to the King. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!
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