Native American Art History Facts and Information - Indian Pictures - Famous Paintings, Artwork, Prints

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Native American Indian Art Facts

This was taken from class notes from a lecture about Native American art so it reads choppy but it still has valuable information

Early paintings and drawings by Europeans in the 15th and 16th centuries, depicting Native American Indians as their subject material were created for those in Europe who had never saw Native Americans before. These paintings of Native American Indians showed colorful clothing, feathers, tattoos and more exoticism. European artists were very interested in the body art of Native Americans. Most all paintings showed the tattoos of Native Americans. The artwork sensationalized and romanticized Native American culture making it seem exotic to the European. Artwork focused on dress or lack of clothing, ceremonies and rituals often showing Europeans in the pictures as well. The Europeans placed within the pictures gave an air of authenticity and documentation. It emphasized the fact that Europeans had made contact. Europeans were often placed at a distance observing the Native Americans, their portrayed body language or stance signified authority. Pictures also showed Native Americans as thin and muscular built.


John White who was apart of the English colony at Roanoke Island NC (Lost Colony), drew Native Americans and painted watercolor paintings of them. These pictures depicted Native American Indian women with tattoos on their arms and legs. They were often naked showing their bare breasts. The paintings were exotic and sensational in Europe. Theodore de Brie also painted Native Americans. His paintings often showed conjurers which were similar to witches in Europe as in the painting Saving Pocahontas.

John Verels was a Dutch painter who painted the 5 kings of Iroquois (Sachems). He also painted Hendrick who went to England. Verels was commissioned by Queen Anne to paint the picture. Another painting, King of the Maqua is a picture of a Mohican Indian with body tattoos. Painted in 1710, the painting was sensational in Europe.

By the 1800's, paintings began to show more Europeanization. Native Americans began being depicted in suits rather than traditional dress. Guns were in the paintings rather than bows and arrows. They still showed some element that tied the Native Americans to their heritage such as a feather, tattoo or other symbol of tradition.

Charles Byrd King was an artist whose father was killed and scalped by Indians. He was a popular artist of Indians. He studied in the Royal Academy in England. King was hired by the British government to paint leaders of the tribes. King published lithographs of his Indian drawings in 1830.

By 1800, it was the conviction that the Indian was disappearing due to diseases.

George Catlin painted Native Americans with colorful tattoos, face paint, feathers, leggings, bows and arrows .... the typical Hollywood version. His paintings often had details of face and tattoos but left much of the rest unfinished. He depicted ball games in Oklahoma Indian Territory where he traveled there to paint. Catlin painted Black Hawk in 1833 with western dress and very accurate looks. He was dressed in a red cape symbolizing royalty and wore earrings which showed Black Hawk still held on to the Indian past..

Early Native American art did not depict Europeans. Baskets, pottery and other everyday used items were decorated to look pretty.

In San Rafael Swell Utah there are Petroglyphs that are dated to about 1200. There are cave paintings in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. They don't really know why the paintings were there. Some guesses say that they were painted for decoration, maybe some symbolized the creation stories. There are snakes and animals in the paintings.

Turtles are drawn and painted in many paintings. Turtles are important in Native American culture. They are said to bring all things. Dorothy Sullivan is a Native American Artist who paints using Turtles as a subject.

Cherokee baskets woven in the 1700's were made of natural material. They were durable and doubled walled so they could hold water. They had designs on them.


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Bear Medicine
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Stolen Horses
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Detail of Native American clothing
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Pocahontas Alias Matoaka American Indian Princess at the Age of 21
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Chief Powhatan of Virginia, Father of Pocahontas, c.1607

more Native American pictures

Native American Indian History