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Catalog Data

George Catlin, born Wilkes-Barre, PA 1796-died Jersey City, NJ 1872  Search this
oil on canvas
11 1/4 x 14 3/8 in. (28.5 x 36.6 cm)
Luce Center Label:
“[The Mandan] never bury the dead, but place the bodies on slight scaffolds just above the reach of human hands, and out of the way of wolves and dogs; and they are there left to moulder and decay. This cemetery, or place of deposit for the dead, is just back of the village, on a level prairie; and with all its appearances, history, forms, ceremonies, &c. is one of the strangest and most interesting objects to be described in the vicinity of this peculiar race . . . When the scaffolds on which the bodies rest, decay and fall to the ground, the nearest relations having buried the rest of the bones, take the skulls, which are perfectly bleached and purified, and place them in circles of an hundred or more on the prairie---placed at equal distances apart (some eight or nine inches from each other), with the faces all looking to the centre; where they are religiously protected and preserved in their precise positions from year to year, as objects of religious and affectionate veneration.” George Catlin sketched and perhaps painted this scene at a Mandan village in 1832. (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 1, no. 12, 1841; reprint 1973)
Western  Search this
Landscape\cemetery  Search this
Ethnic\Indian\Mandan  Search this
Architecture Exterior\domestic\hut  Search this
Credit Line:
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.
Object number:
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Smithsonian American Art Museum Collection
Painting and Sculpture
On View:
Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2nd Floor, South Wing
Data Source:
Smithsonian American Art Museum