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Description: George Catlin’s letter is in response to Col. Norton who was clearly trying to find a place for Catlin’s Cartoon Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1871. Catlin values his “hard earned illustrations of American Indian types and customs” at $100.000, stating that “the above named society . . . would suit [him] better than any other. . . .” He sees his collection as “the works of [his] life of which [he is] most proud, and, if sold, [would] give [him] the means of at once relieving the old collection from heavy liens upon it.” He also sets up terms and conditions of how they should be displayed “in a fireproof building or Hall [sic] of a suitable size, and with a proper skylight to good advantage.” He asks to be allowed to retouch the paintings as he desires and photograph them as necessary to enable him to complete “a large work now in progress.” He also asks that no copies be allowed “during [his] lifetime without [his] consent.”
In 1830, the year of the Indian Removal Act, George Catlin (1796-1872), a lawyer and miniaturist of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, set out on a diplomatic mission with General William Clark. For the next several years, he travelled along the Mississippi visiting and recording American Indian tribes’ lives. In about a decade, he produced his first collection, a total of 607 Indian portraits, also known as the Indian Gallery. He had tried in vain to interest Congress to acquire his work, after which he exhibited his collection widely in Europe. Having fallen into debt, he was forced to sell his collection to Joseph Harrison, a Philadelphia industrialist, in 1852.
Catlin also painted another collection which he called the “Cartoon Collection” as he considered them “unfinished”; they were based on the outlines of the original Indian portraits. The 1871 letter to Col. Norton refers to this collection. Catlin was unsuccessful in selling his work to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which opened in 1872. In 1912, his heirs sold the Cartoon Collection to the American Museum of Natural History.
Hand written in black ink on three sides of a folded 8”x10” ruled page on November 27th, 1871 from New York and signed “Geo. Catlin”. Item #A00698.
Condition: Fold lines, lightly toned, otherwise very good.