Tuesday, February 12, 2019
George Catlin (1796 –1872) Four Arowak (Arawak) Indians
Generally. the Arawak were Native American Indians of the Greater Antilles & South America. The Taino, an Arawak subgroup, were the 1st native peoples encountered by Christopher Columbus on Hispaniola. The island Arawak were virtually wiped out by Old World diseases to which they had no immunity. A small number of mainland Arawak survive in South America. Most (more than 15,000) live in Guyana, where they represent about one-third of the Indian population. Smaller groups are found in Suriname, French Guiana, & Venezuela. Their language, also called Arawak, is spoken chiefly by older adults. The Antillean Arawak, or Taino, were agriculturists who lived in villages, some with as many as 3,000 inhabitants, & practiced slash-and-burn cultivation of cassava & corn. They recognized social rank & gave great deference to theocratic chiefs. Religious belief centred on a hierarchy of nature spirits & ancestors, paralleling somewhat the hierarchies of chiefs. Despite their complex social organization, the Antillean Arawak were not given to warfare. They were driven out of the Lesser Antilles by the Caribs shortly before the appearance of the Spanish. The South American Arawak inhabited northern & western areas of the Amazon basin, where they shared the means of livelihood & social organization of other tribes of the tropical forest. They were sedentary farmers who hunted & fished, lived in small autonomous settlements, & had little hierarchical organization. The Arawak were found as far west as the foothills of the Anes. These Campa Arawak, however, remained isolated from influences of the Andean civilizations.
During the mid-19C, George Catlin created 2 large collections of paintings featuring Indian portraits, genre scenes, & western landscapes. The 1st collection, which he called his "Indian Gallery," included more than 500 works completed during the 1830s. Most of the surviving paintings from this group are now at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. During the 1850s & 1860s, Catlin created a 2nd collection, numbering more than 600 works, which he called his "Cartoon Collection." The surviving works from this collection were acquired by the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1912. Paul Mellon purchased more than 300 paintings from the Cartoon Collection when they were deaccessioned. In 1965, he gave 351 works from this collection to the National Gallery of Art. When Catlin exhibited the Cartoon Collection in New York in 1871, he published a catalog listing all the works.