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. 462. Omágua.
a. – (-----); a man, said to be celebrated and chief of the tribe, armed with his bow and arrows.
b. – (-----); this man, with his ears elongated and curiously ornamented with quills and feathers, was also represented to be a chief.
c. – (-----); a medicine man, his ears slit and elongated, and he wears at times a huge boulder of flint attached to his under lip.
A small fishing tribe, south bank of the Amazon, near Nauta. 1853.
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.
- Sudamerica: Pinturas de George Catlin, Museo Franz Meyer, Mexico City; Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires; Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Santiago, Chile, 1989-1990, no. 6, color repro. (organized by United States Information Agency).
- South American Indian Paintings by George Catlin (NGA National Lending Service exhibition), The Museums at Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York, 1992.
- South American Indian Paintings by George Catlin (NGA National Lending Service Exhibition), The Lowe Art Museum, The University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida, 1994-1995.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 35.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 113, repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 126, repro.