Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America

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CATLIN, George (1796-1872). Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America. London: Geo. Catlin, Egyptian Hall [but Henry Bohn] (C. & J. Adlard, printers of text), 1844 [or 1845].


Folio (23 4/8 x 18 4/8 inches). Letterpress title-page and 9 leaves of text, loose as issued (a bit thumbed, short marginal tears, one or two of which have been repaired). 25 handcolored lithographed plates after Catlin by Catlin and McGahey lithographed by Day and Haghe, plates printed before letters, heightened with gum arabic and mounted on card within ink-ruled frames loose as issued (plate one with a small stain, some plates with minor spotting, one or two mounts with small surface tears). Preserved in modern maroon morocco backed portfolio.

Provenance: from the library of Gerald F. Fitzgerald, with his bookplate on the inside front cover of the portfolio, his sale, Sotheby's London, June 11, 2013, lot 59  

First edition, third (first Bohn) issue, the first issue with the plates hand-coloured and mounted on card.  

George Catlin was the first artist to travel widely among the Plains Indians of North America and create an important body of paintings and graphics to illustrate their customs and artifacts.  His purpose was both unselfish and romantic.  He wanted, and labored unceasingly, to persuade his contemporaries that Native American culture should be honored and preserved.  During the 1830's, Catlin gathered artifacts and turned his sketches and recollections of the prairie into paintings.  In 1827, George Catlin, an illustrator from Philadelphia, became the first artist to attempt the perilous journey up the Missouri River, and the first to create visual records of his experiences traveling among the Plains Indians of North America.  The artist himself best expressed his goal in the preface to the first edition of his North American Indian Portfolio: "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." Over the next eight years, Catlin would travel extensively throughout the Western Plains of America doing just that, and accumulating his "Indian Gallery", which consisted of hundreds of oil paintings he executed presenting the appearances and customs of the 48 different tribes of Native Americans he encountered during his journey.  

Catlin began to display his Indian Gallery in 1837, touring it in the United States for the next two years before taking the show to London. Having established a name for himself with the success of the Indian Gallery, Catlin turned his attention to finishing his first book, "he Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians…" which first appeared in the fall of 1841. This book was to become one of the most important works on American Indians published in the 19th century. Not only is Catlin's work a wonderful description of  his  extensive travels and his career as an artist painting scenes of Indian life in the Midwest, but the book also contains hundreds of  his illustrations that portray many aspects of  Indian life: Their costumes, ceremonies, dwellings, villages, buffalo hunts, games, etc. Three significant maps showing Indian tribe locations of the period around 1840 further augment the illustrative plates.  Catlin's project filled a great need.  After Lewis & Clark's celebrated expedition up the Missouri River into the Pacific Northwest, Europeans read avidly of the sights and experiences of the voyage.  They traced the route followed by the explorers, using the map that accompanied the wildly popular printed volumes on the journey.  But a crucial aspect was missing from the accounts of the expedition of Lewis and Clark.  Without pictorial documentation, Europeans (and Americans) were unable to visualize the unbelievable journey.  This lack meant that the people, landscape, and customs of the vast American frontier remained abstract ideas-and much less vividly imaginable-to anyone who had not personally experienced the voyage.    

 When Catlin first issued his volume in 1844, his animated, colorful, sympathetic views of Native Americans finally filled the void of imagery.  Suddenly, Europeans and Americans were able to visualize the people and customs of whom they had read so extensively, and to gain a level of respect for the Native Americans, so often feared, misunderstood or misrepresented.  The artist's stunning lithographs ranged from portraits to depictions of tribal ceremonies, from the anecdotal to the idealized.  Catlin appealed to his readers with the thrill of the hunt and the mystery of ritual, and conveyed his respect for his subjects masterfully.  The immediacy of his images is irresistible, drawing viewers into the scenes and portraits with unprecedented intimacy.  But even when Catlin issued the North American Indian Portfolio, just fifteen years after his expedition, his crusade to preserve America's "Noble Savage" was failing.  The Indians were beginning to give way to the expansion of the American frontier and to European disease.  Because most of Catlin's paintings and collections were destroyed by fire and neglect, his lithographs remain the principal medium by which his message was conveyed, and they have come to hold even greater significance today than when they were first published.  

The publisher of this issue - the second with hand-coloured plates, was "the king of color plate books. Henry G. Bohn is one of the most extraordinary figures in English bookselling history... By 1841 Bohn's rise was marked by his famous "Guinea Catalogue," so named for its price, listing his enormous stock of books in a volume eight inches thick. By that time, Bohn was the most successful new and rare book dealer in London.  He is a central figure in the rest of the story of the PORTFOLIO and other Catlin publications.      

"In the absence of any surviving records from Bohn's firm, the exact nature and timing of his arrangements with Catlin can only be hypothesized, but the first part seems to have been a marketing deal which called for Bohn to distribute Catlin's extant copies, and granted Bohn the right to publish his own version. Bohn must have felt Catlin had made a major blunder in the format of his book. Traditionally a large work of this sort would have been issued tinted,- on paper, or colored, tipped on card, with no text on the prints, in order to imitate the look of original watercolors. The plates would have remained unbound and laid in a portfolio. This was the style wealthy patrons expected, and Catlin's failure to recognize this may have cost him dearly.        

"Bohn moved quickly to fill the gap. He had Day & Haghe print a colored issue tipped on card, packaging it in portfolios made by Tarrant, the same binder Catlin had used, and with the same 20pp. letterpress text laid in. Typically, he used the available pieces that fit and created the new ones needed to produce the right package for the market. I call this first version on card the third issue.The card issue of the PORTFOLIO was first advertised in BENT'S MONTHLY LITERARY ADVERTISER of Jan. 10, 1845" (William Reese Co., Reese, issue 3).