"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Mah-tó-he-ha, Old Bear

A Medicine Man.

This 1832 painting of Mah-tó-he-ha, Old Bear, a Medicine Man hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC.
At twelve o’clock, “having used the whole of the fore-part of the day at his toilette,” George Catlin wrote, Old Bear arrived at the artist’s lodge “bedaubed and streaked with paints of various colours, with bear’s grease and charcoal, with medicine-pipes in his hands and foxes tails attached to his heels [and] with a train of his own profession, who seated themselves around him … He took his position in the middle of the room, waving his eagle calumets in each hand, and singing his medicine-song … looking me full in the face until I completed his picture, which I painted at full length.” The artist painted Old Bear at a Mandan village in 1832. (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 1, no. 15, 1841; reprint 1973) - SAAM

Here's the version of this image that appeared as Plate 55 in Letters and Notes:

And here's the color version that appeared in  Catlin's posthumously published  Illustrations of the Manners, Customs, & Condition of the North American Indians, 1876.

Mah-to-he-ha The Old Bear
Plate 55 

Read an excerpt from Catlin's Letter No. 15 dealing with “The Old Bear” , or read all of Letter 15

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