George Catlin’s American Buffalo

Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing Gallery

Americans’ fascination with the American West is heralded in the 40 paintings that comprise this Smithsonian exhibition featuring the work of George Catlin.

Catlin was among the earliest artists of European descent to chronicle the massive herds of buffalo roaming the Great Plains and portray how truly embedded they were in the daily lives of American Indian tribes. His brilliant canvases showcase iconic scenes of the American West and show how the buffalo was used in multiple facets of daily life, from food and shelter to ceremony and naming.

Catlin was a prolific writer as well as a painter. In the 1830s, he wrote that, without some greater measure of restraint on the part of advancing settlers, the buffalo would soon be eradicated from the plains. His vision of a park that would be a refuge for buffalo came true, in part, in 1872 with the foundation of Yellowstone, the world’s first national park.

This exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog with an essay by guest curator Adam Duncan Harris, curator of art at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

George Catlin’s American Buffalo is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in collaboration with the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Generous support for the exhibition has been provided by Mary Anne and Richard W. Cree, and Lynn and Foster Friess. Additional support for the exhibition and the publication was provided by William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund and the Smithsonian Council for American Art. Support for Treasures to Go, the Museum’s traveling exhibition program, comes from The C.F. Foundation, Atlanta, Georgia.