The Red Man's Bones by Benita Eisler
George Catlin, Artist and Showman

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The scholarly detail might overwhelm at times with historical detours and minutiae, but we forgive it given the complexity of the problematic subject of the American Indian and Catlin’s roller coaster life.
-NY Journal of Books

Synopsis

The first biography in over sixty years of a great American artist whose paintings are more famous than the man who made them.


George Catlin has been called the “first artist of the West,” as none before him lived among and painted the Native American tribes of the Northern Plains. After a false start as a painter of miniatures, Catlin found his calling: to fix the image of a “vanishing race” before their “extermination”—his word—by a government greedy for their lands. In the first six years of the 1830s, he created over six hundred portraits—unforgettable likenesses of individual chiefs, warriors, braves, squaws, and children belonging to more than thirty tribes living along the upper Missouri River.

Political forces thwarted Catlin’s ambition to sell what he called his “Indian Gallery” as a national collection, and in 1840 the artist began three decades of self-imposed exile abroad. For a time, his exhibitions and writings made him the most celebrated American expatriate in London and Paris. He was toasted by Queen Victoria and breakfasted with King Louis-Philippe, who created a special gallery in the Louvre to show his pictures. But when he started to tour “live” troupes of Ojibbewa and Iowa, Catlin and his fortunes declined: He changed from artist to showman, and from advocate to exploiter of his native performers. Tragedy and loss engulfed both.


This brilliant and humane portrait brings to life George Catlin and his Indian subjects for our own time. An American original, he still personifies the artist as a figure of controversy, torn by conflicting demands of art and success.

 

About Benita Eisler

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Benita Eisler's subject is the life and work of artists, and their worlds. She has written on the Romantics, Byron, Chopin, and George Sand, and is the author of a dual biography of early modernists Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. She lives in New York City.
 
Published July 22, 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company. 497 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Red Man's Bones
All: 3 | Positive: 3 | Negative: 0

WSJ online

Good
Reviewed by Jonathan Lopez on Jul 26 2013

Benita Eisler brilliantly captures the entire saga in "The Red Man's Bones," a marvelous book with the appeal of the big Western sky and enough action to fill a Tom Mix two-reeler...Ms. Eisler's book is far and away the best biography of Catlin in existence

Read Full Review of The Red Man's Bones: George C... | See more reviews from WSJ online

Kirkus

Good
on May 07 2013

Eisler’s fine, thorough work begs for a fresh reappraisal of this pioneering artist.

Read Full Review of The Red Man's Bones: George C... | See more reviews from Kirkus

NY Journal of Books

Above average
Reviewed by William Tomicki on Jul 22 2013

The scholarly detail might overwhelm at times with historical detours and minutiae, but we forgive it given the complexity of the problematic subject of the American Indian and Catlin’s roller coaster life.

Read Full Review of The Red Man's Bones: George C... | See more reviews from NY Journal of Books

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