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. 483.
“THE HANDSOME DANCE” (“Mach-e-o-a”). Indians, Gooagives, of Venezuela. Three young girls, selected by the chief, their bodies nude, but covered with pipe clay (having the appearance of statues), gave this very pretty dance to please the author. Their toes, which were not separated or lifted from the ground, rested on tiger skins, and their motions were exceedingly graceful, and in time with the beating of the drum.
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.
Associated NamesMellon, Paul
- An Exhibition of Paintings and Lithographs by George Catlin, Artist Historian, Tennessee Fine Arts Center, Nashville, 1971, no. 32.
- George Catlin: Painter of the Indians of the Americas, Sordoni Art Gallery (Opening Exhibition), Wilkes College, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 1973, no. 30.
- American Indian Life: Paintings by George Catlin, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980.
- 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. 23, 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: 34.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 73, repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 114, repro.