First Sailing of the Griffin on Lake Erie. August 7, 1679
1847/1848 Paul Mellon Collection 1965.16.322
After many years of doing portraits, George Catlin developed a strong desire to capture the history of the Indian people in the western United States. In the 1830s Catlin began to create works such as First Sailing of the Griffin on Lake Erie. The bold colors and strong lines that Catlin uses in his works provide excellent clarity to the story that Catlin is trying to tell. For most painters of this period the focus was simply the art itself, the beauty of what was on the canvas. Catlin instead separates himself as a story teller and historian. In this example of his work, he focuses upon the intersection of European explorers with their sailing technology, and the North American inhabitants more familiar with forests and plains.
George Catlin was born on July, 26 1796 in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Twenty years before Catlin’s birth his mother and grandmother were taken captive in an Indian uprising. This incident would always be in Catlin’s thoughts and would later be inspiration for his art.
Catlin began his career painting portraits in Philadelphia and New York, including one the governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton. In the 1830s Catlin switched his focus to capture Indian culture and tradition by traveling throughout the western United States. In 1832, while living with Sioux tribe, Catlin discovered his talent for recording detailed history in color on paper.
He continued to paint the history of the Indian people he encountered and even incorporated his ability to paint beautiful portraits. After his travels though the west, Catlin returned to New York to open a gallery with his painting of his explorations through Indian culture. The gallery entitled “Catlin’s Indian Gallery” was an inside look into the life of the Indians in the West. Catlin continued his work with Indian culture by publishing a book in 1841 entitled Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Conditions of the North American Indians .
Catlin died in New Jersey in 1872.