Native American Portrayal

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With this series I'd like to explore how artistic portrayals of Native Americans by white men have developed over time. How does the white settlers' perception of nature reflect upon their perception of the Native American culture?

Looking through the set I think you will find that the Native Americans begin as a foreign people that the white settlers are interested in developing a working relationship with.

Over time the Natives are portrayed as hostile, savage, and the art depicting them and their customs emphasizes their "otherness".

A turning point occurs in 1875 when the medium of photography is introduced. Suddenly the viewer is able to see the Native man as he actually was. Though the photograph was directed by a white man, which likely influenced the pose and location chosen, the Native American man pictured looks nothing like the men in Osage Scalp Dance or Ball-play of the Choctaw.

As we move into the 20th century a completely different idea Native American people begins to emerge within the art. No longer are the paintings done with muted tones of brown, orange and red. We see the Native Americans acting as healers, women begin to emerge into the spotlight, and the men on horseback begin to resemble white American cowboys wandering through a deserted natural landscape.

The literature we have read portrays a similar relationship with nature. A Model of Christian Charity of John Winthrop idealizes the virgin American continent and all it has to offer the immigrants. J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur speaks harshly of those who leave civilization and move out into the vast wilderness inhabited by a nation he does not know or trust. Walt Whitman encouraged his readers to "Love the earth and sun and the animals" in his book Leaves of Grass. With this revived interest in nature and exploration came genuine interest and tolerant attitudes toward a people who had been persecuted for so long.

Indian girl, George Morland, 1763–1804, British, 1793, From the collection of: Yale Center for British Art
Here a young girl is sitting in a natural setting. She wears little clothing. She is harmless.
Penn's Treaty with the Indians, Edward Hicks, c. 1830-1840, From the collection of: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
This painting closely resembles another by Benjamin West, completed in 1771.
Kee-mo-rá-nia, No English, a Dandy, George Catlin, 1830, From the collection of: Smithsonian American Art Museum
This portrait by George Catlin emphasizes the foreign dress and accessories of the Native Americans.
The Last Race, Mandan O-kee-pa Ceremony, George Catlin, 1832, From the collection of: Smithsonian American Art Museum
George Catlin visited 50 tribes in a period of six years. This painting from 1932 has a very red-skinned group painted with war paint, dragging men with lighter skin around an arena. The group looks savage and hostile.
Osage Scalp Dance, John Mix Stanley, 1845, From the collection of: Smithsonian American Art Museum
In this painting the Native Americans are not only dark skinned, they are somehow impenetrable by the light.
Black Knife, an Apache Warrior, John Mix Stanley, 1846, From the collection of: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Where is the portrayal of day-to-day life? Where are the women, the children, the old men? The paintings within this time period emphasized war and warriors.
Ball-play of the Choctaw--Ball Up, George Catlin, 1846-1850, From the collection of: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Another depiction of an activity white settlers would have been baffled by. The landscape is beautiful by it is filled with half-naked people fighting and carrying weapons.
Little Bear, Cheyenne, May 10, 1875, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
A stunning photograph portraying a Native man with no savage implication.
The Outlier, Frederic Sackrider Remington, 1909, From the collection of: Brooklyn Museum
This Native man is alone, in a bright and colorful landscape. He carries a rifle, but he is not threatening the viewer .
Making Sweet Grass Medicine, Blackfoot Ceremony, Joseph Henry Sharp, ca. 1920, From the collection of: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Finally a glimpse into the everyday life of the Native peoples! Here they are portrayed as healers in a bright and colorful setting.
The Gift, Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1922, From the collection of: Smithsonian American Art Museum
A proud looking woman surrounded by a group of women and children. Unlike the female child at the beginning of this series she is fully clothed and looks strong and secure in her surroundings.
Corn Dance, Taos Pueblo, Norman S. Chamberlain, 1934, From the collection of: Smithsonian American Art Museum
A portrayal of what looks like a religious ceremony that is foreign, but not threatening.
Riders at Sunset, E. Martin Hennings, 1935-1945, From the collection of: Smithsonian American Art Museum
If you could not see the face of the rider in red, you might think this was a portrayal of two white cowboys out on the American frontier. Here the similarities between the Native people living out West and the white settlers are emphasized. It finally feels as though the Natives have been accepted as part of the landscape, co-owners of the land.
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This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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