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Overview

During the mid-19th century, George Catlin created two large collections of paintings featuring Indian portraits, genre scenes, and western landscapes. The first collection, which he called his "Indian Gallery," included more than 500 works completed during the 1830s. Most of the surviving paintings from this group are now at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. During the 1850s and 1860s, Catlin created a second collection, numbering more than 600 works, which he called his "Cartoon Collection." The surviving works from this collection were acquired by the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1912. Paul Mellon purchased more than 300 paintings from the Cartoon Collection when they were deaccessioned. In 1965, he gave 351 works from this collection to the National Gallery of Art.

When Catlin exhibited the Cartoon Collection in New York in 1871, he published a catalog listing all the works. The catalog entries often included additional information about the subject of each painting. Catlin's catalog entry for this painting follows.

 

Cart. No. 417.    

“Me-ne-ro-ka-ha-sha” (The Waters Sink Down).—The interior of the Medicine Lodge of the Mandans, during the first day of an extraordinary annual ceremony, called by them, “O-kee-pa.” This ceremony, probably the most strange and unaccountable of all the American Indian customs, continues four successive days and nights in celebration of the “Deluge,” of which these Indians have preserved distinct traditions. On this occasion, all the young men who have arrived at the age of manhood during the past year, are subjected to a series of voluntary tortures, which, being manfully endured, entitle them to the distinction of Braves, and enable them to join war parties. The young men prepared to endure those tortures are seen lying around the lodge, their bodies covered with clay of various colors, with their shields and weapons suspended over their heads.

In the middle of the lodge reclines an aged Medicine Man, who has charge of the lodge, and is by them called “Okeepa-Ca-see-ka,” (Master of Ceremonies). He holds in his hand a sacred pipe, an emblem of his authority and power. He cries continually to the Great Spirit, and watches the young men, who are not allowed to eat, to drink, or to sleep during the four days and four nights, whilst in this position, they are awaiting the tortures to be inflicted on the last day.

On the ground, in the front part of the lodge, are four sacs, containing several gallons each of water, and made of the skins of buffaloes’ necks, in form of large tortoises lying on their backs. These sacs, to appearance of great antiquity, are held in great veneration, as will be seen in the following scenes; they serve as instruments of music in their dances, being beaten upon with sticks, giving sounds somewhat like muffled drums.

Provenance

George Catlin [1796-1872]; by descent to his daughters, Clara Gregory Catlin, Louise Catlin Kinney, and Elizabeth Wing Catlin; purchased 1912 from Elizabeth Wing Catlin by the American Museum of Natural History; sold 1959 through (Kennedy Galleries, New York) to Mr. Paul Mellon, Upperville, VA; gift 1965 to the NGA.

Exhibition History
1964
Loan for display with permanent collection, Whitney Gallery of Western Art, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, 1964-1974.
1980
American Indian Life: Paintings by George Catlin, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980.
1982
Extended loan for use by The White House, Washington, D.C., 1982-1983.
1989
A Gallery Revived: North American Indian Paintings by George Catlin, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, 1989.
1990
North American Indian Paintings by George Catlin (NGA National Lending Service exhibition), Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, 1990-1991.
1992
North American Indian Paintings by George Catlin (NGA National Lending Service exhibition), Palm Springs Desert Museum, 1992-1993.
1993
North American Indian Paintings by George Catlin (NGA National Lending Service exhibition), Boise Art Museum, Idaho, 1993.
1994
North American Indian Paintings by George Catlin (NGA National Lending Service exhibition), Hofstra Museum, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, 1994.
1994
North American Indian Paintings by George Catlin (NGA National Lending Service exhibition), West Bend Gallery of Fine Arts, Wisconsin, 1994.
1995
North American Indian Paintings by George Catlin (NGA National Lending Service exhibition), Lore Degenstein Gallery, Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, 1995.
1995
North American Indian Paintings by George Catlin (NGA National Lending Service exhibition), Payne Gallery, Moravian College, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1995, unnumbered brochure.
Bibliography
1970
American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 28.
1980
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 83, repro.
1992
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 75, repro.