George Catlin (1796 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania - December 23, 1872 in Jersey City, New Jersey) was an American painter who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West. He was the fifth of 14 children. Both his mother and grandmother had been captives of Indians.
Catlin left a law career to paint Native Americans and "to rescue from oblivion their primitive looks and customs." He taught himself painting and painted indians he met in St. Louis or on excursions into Indian country, sketching and painting some 600 Indian portraits, scenes of native life and landscapes. He also documented his paintings with notes on customs of the approximate 48 tribes he contacted..
Catlin formed some of the earliest Wild West Shows in order to highlight the plight of the Native Americans and show their culture. He travelled the United States east coast and Europe with his shows, showing his paintings, so-called Catlin Cartoon Collection. Bankrupt by 1852, he sold his works to a private collector, Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. whose heirs later donated them to the Smithsonian. After the bankruptcy, Catlin travelled widely in the American West and in South America.
His works are the only known portrayals of some western tribes, including the bulk of those of the Mandan tribe, which he believed was descended from the Welsh.