George Catlin. Plate 25. “Wi-Jun-Jon. An Assinneboin Chief. Going to Washington. Returning to his home.” From Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America. London: G. Catlin, 1844. Folio. Lithograph drawn by McGahey and printed by Day & Hague. Full original hand color. Very good condition. Framed to museum standards.
The prints of George Catlin mark a poignant and heroic moment in the history of American art and culture. Setting out to chronicle and immortalize Indian culture, Catlin’s career was one of mid-19th century pioneer adventure and spirit colored by the ideal of the ‘noble savage’ in his pristine environment. In 1830 he went out to St. Louis and from there traveled extensively for several years to Indian villages along the Platte and Missouri rivers and then later to tribes throughout the mid and far west. The result was some 500 paintings and one of the most significant chronicles of Indian life and culture ever produced. The prints Catlin later published from his paintings, with their fascinating and important subjects, as well as their rich color, detail and artistic worth, are a noble legacy from Catlin’s memorable career.
Wijunjon had been a warrior of distinction among his people. Young, proud and handsome, he had fought in many battles. It was decided that he should travel to Washington to visit the President. The chief was duly impressed with the white man’s world and whole heartily embraced its ways. The trip had an everlasting effect on Wijunjon. Catlin met him prior to his departure, and was amazed at Wijunjon’s transformation upon his return. Hence, this print which shows his attire before and after his visit to Washington. Catlin beautifully depicted Wijunjon’s native costume of leggings and shirt made from the skin of the mountain goat, which was garnished with the quills of the porcupine and fringed with the locks of scalps of his enemies. His head is magnificently decked with war eagle feathers and his robe, made from the skin of the young buffalo skin, was decorated with the scenes of the battles of his life. At right he is shown in the uniform of an American militia man. The suit was made of the finest blue broadcloth trimmed with gold lace. On his shoulders are two immense epaulettes, high heel boots on his feet and his head is crowned with a high beaver hat with a broad silver lace band and surmounted by a huge red feather. A large broadsword is suspended from a wide braided belt around his waist. On his hands are white kid gloves with an umbrella and fan held in each.
Wijunjon regaled his fellow tribesmen of the fantastic world of the “pale faces,” but his stories to them were so unintelligible and beyond comprehension that they did not believe him. However, Wijunjon tried to convince them that all he said and seen was true. Unfortunately, he sank into disgrace and eventually was killed as the most preposterous liar the tribe had ever known. This print is one of the most fascinating and visually appealing of the full figure images in the Catlin series.