George Catlin (American, 1796–1872),
A Prairie Picnic Disturbed by a Rushing Herd of Buffalo
oil on canvas, 18 ¾ x 26 ½ in.; 47.63 x 67.31 cm
Gift of Mr. Carman H. Messmore, 1966.624
Catlin received little formal training as an artist, and his quickly rendered landscapes and portraits are often more notable for their spirit than for their accuracy of detail or for beautiful tonalities of color. But the spirit cannot be denied. The artist’s empathy for his human subjects and his enthusiasm for Western adventure are always evident, as in this painting of men endangered by a sudden stampede of buffalo on a vast prairie.
This scene is from his book Letters and Notes of 1841. Catlin depicts himself in a hunter’s cap with his two assistants stopping for a picnic during their journey down the Missouri River. The meal is dramatically interrupted by a buffalo stampede that is headed straight for Catlin.