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Saturday, November 27, 2004

Painted Indians

From Science Daily and the Los Angeles Times

CHICAGO — The Field Museum will auction off a series of 19th century portraits of American Indians by artist George Catlin — a decision that is expected to raise millions for the museum but which has divided its board of directors.

Posted by Hello
Jú-ah-kís-gaw, Woman with Her Child in a Cradle, 1835 Ojibwe/Chippewa oil 29 x 24 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison

Those opposed to the sale argue that it would forever break up a rare collection that offers a window into the daily lives of the tribes of the Midwest and Great Plains. Those who favor the sale insist that the paintings are worth more as art than they are as records of tribal life, and therefore are less important to the museum's focus.

The paintings were purchased for $1,250 by the museum in 1893, shortly after it was founded as the Columbian Museum of Chicago. Today, the Field Museum is known nationally for the size and depth of its natural history and anthropological collection.

On Dec. 2, Sotheby's Inc. will put 31 of the museum's 35 Catlin paintings up for auction in New York. Their value is estimated at $9 million to $15 million.

They are known as rare and unusual works: Catlin was the first Western artist to take his brush and canvas on a series of trips into Indian lands in the 1830s in an effort to capture the lives of tribes he believed would become extinct.

The following note appears with the painting above in a recent exhibition:
"In 1835, after his visit to Oklahoma, Catlin journeyed up the Mississippi by steamer from New Orleans to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, bringing his wife Clara on a western tour for the first and only time. Tribes of the Upper Mississippi and Great Lakes region such as the Ojibwe had been increasingly jostled by European traders, war, and U.S. expansion since the eighteenth century. Well before Catlin's arrival, they had incorporated woven cloth and elaborate beadwork into their dress."


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