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George Catlin
Mah-kée-mee-teuv, Grizzly Bear, Chief of the Tribe, 1831
Menominee
oil
21 1/8 x 16 1/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.


Described by Catlin as a dignified chief who /,commanded great respect for his eloquence, and … deportment” Grizzly Bear was painted with “a handsome pipe in his hand, and wampum on his neck” (Letters and Notes, vol. 2, p. 147, pl. 258; 1848 catalogue, p. 25).

Probably painted in Washington in January 1831, when Grizzly Bear and thirteen members of his tribe visited the capital to negotiate the sale of a portion of their tribal lands. A treaty signed by the Menominee on February 8, 1831, includes the names of eleven of the twelve male subjects listed in the 1848 catalogue between numbers 218 and 231. Catlin's presence in Washington in January 1831 is certain (see Roehm), and the Menominee portraits are very different from the one Winnebago example, apparently painted at Prairie du Chien in the summer of 1830. They have more in common with the Fort Leavenworth series of the fall of that year, and their small size connects them with other groups that must have been painted in Washington.

The portrait of Grizzly Bear is painted with a flourish and fullness of expression that distinguishes it among the Menominee group. Were it not for its size (the uniform dimensions this series), and the schematic modeling of eyes and lips, one would be tempted to assign it to one of Catlin's later visits to Prairie du Chien. The succeeding portraits in this group, which Donaldson incorrectly dates 1835 or 1836, are modeled with heavier, less vigorous strokes, and costume details sometimes lack a sharp and careful definition. The unfortunate condition of several portraits further contributes to their uneven appearance.

Grizzly Bear appears again in cartoon 17, with his wife and son.



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