Review: George Catlin – American Indian Portraits

I always really enjoy the National Portrait Gallery. I’ve always been more into people than things, so it enthuses me a lot more than that time I went to the Science and History museums. If I hadn’t been walking all over London before it, I probably could have spent all day wandering around, looking at all those faces.

As it was, my feet were sore, I was tired and we just needed some shelter from the rain. We did the George Catlin: American Indian Portraits exhibit. It was astonishing! The detail compared to some of the other displays that we’d briefly browsed on the way was extraordinary. My favourite was:

I find it really interesting how it is very realistic from the waist up, but his clothes have next to no detail. It’s almost as though his bow and arrow are just a suggested by a couple of lines rather than actually being present in the postrait. Especially in comparison to the other portraits in the collection (of which there are hundreds), the lack of detail is intriguing. Catlin was certainly very talented, though he did get a lot of practise! It seems as though he did nothing except paint indians, though I am sure he led a very exciting life. I’m afraid I’m not one for looking at the descriptions and history – I just like to look in their eyes and imagine them as people.

It is also crazy to imagine that in order to accurately record history, this kind of ‘art’ was required as photography didn’t exist. I know that photographs are still subjective and can be edited, but to imagine that all we really know of history is as much of it as someone was willing to paint? Insanity!


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