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The McKenney & Hall Lithographs
of Charles Bird King's
Portraits of American Indians


An Exhibition in the Smithsonian Institution Building, 1990-1996


Charles Bird King's Indian Portraits

Text adapted from the Introduction by John Ewers to The Indian Legacy of Charles Bird King, by Herman Viola, co-published by Smithsonian Press and Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1976.

Thomas McKenney, United States superintendent of Indian trade in Georgetown, then port of entry for the District of Columbia, conceived the idea of developing a government collection of portraits of prominent Indians who visited Washington. McKenney engaged the services of Charles Bird King (1785-1862) (fig.1), a well known Washington portraitist, who had studied under the great Benjamin West and others, to paint this series of portraits. King painted from life Indian leaders of at least twenty tribes. These portraits were later handsomely reproduced as hand colored lithographs in Thomas McKenney and James Hall’s three-volume classic, History of the Indian Tribes of North America, published in 1837.

McKenney and Hall’s endeavor was an artistic and technological achievement. The first edition, begun in February 1837, was the culmination of eight years of effort. The last volume of this edition appeared in January 1844, some fifteen years after the project began.

PORTRAITS AT THE SMITHSONIAN

Charles Bird King’s Indian Portraits were transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1858 when the National Institute was formally disbanded and its collections dispersed. Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian, placed the portraits in the Art Gallery on the second floor of the Smithsonian Building (figs. 2,3&4). Also on display in this gallery was the collection of American Indian portraits and scenes by New York artist John Mix Stanley. This combined collection of 291 paintings was considered the largest and most valuable one of its kind. On the afternoon of January 24, 1865 fire consumed the entire gallery (fig.5). Fireproof walls and floors saved the rest of the building from complete destruction but the loss was tragic. A few of the King paintings were carried out of the building during the first few minutes of the fire, however, the rest could not be saved. The original oil portraits by King which served as models for the twenty McKenney & Hall lithographs chosen for this exhibit were among those destroyed in the fire of 1865.


The Exhibit

Click on an image to see it larger.

JACK-O-PA THE SIX,
A CHIPPEWA CHIEF

Lithographed, colored and published ca. 1836-44 by J.T. Bowen, Philadelphia. SI.1990.001
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

AMISKQUEW,
A MENOMINIE WARRIOR

Lithographed, colored and published ca. 1836-44 by J.T. Bowen, Philadelphia. SI.1990.002
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

RED JACKET,
A SENECA WAR CHIEF

Lithographed, colored and published ca. 1836-44 by J.T. Bowen, Philadelphia. SI.1990.003
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

CAA-TOU-SEE,
AN OJIBWA

Lithographed, colored and published ca. 1836-44 by J.T. Bowen, Philadelphia. SI.1990.004
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

OCHE-FINCECO,

Lithographed, colored and published ca. 1836-44 by J.T. Bowen, Philadelphia. SI.1990.005
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

LITTLE CROW,
A SIOUX CHIEF

Lithographed, colored and published ca. 1836-44 by J.T. Bowen, Philadelphia. SI.1990.006
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

KEE-SHES-WAA THE SUN,
A FOX CHIEF

Lithographed, colored and published ca. 1836-44 by J.T. Bowen, Philadelphia. SI.1990.007
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

TAH-RO-HON,
AN IOWAY WARRIOR

Lithographed, colored and published ca. 1836-44 by J.T. Bowen, Philadelphia. SI.1990.008
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

O-POTH-LE-YO-HO-LO,
SPEAKER OF THE COUNCILS

Lithographed, colored and published ca. 1836-44 by J.T. Bowen, Philadelphia. SI.1990.009
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

A-NA-CAM-E-GISH-CA,
A CHIPPEWA CHIEF

Lithographed, colored and published ca. 1836-44 by J.T. Bowen, Philadelphia. SI.1990.010
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

PA-SHE-PA-HAW,
A SAUK CHIEF

Lithographed, colored and published ca. 1836-44 by J.T. Bowen, Philadelphia. SI.1990.011
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

WAA-TOP-E-NOT,

Published ca. 1836-44 by D.Rice and A.N. Hart, Philadelphia, printed and colored by J.T. Bowen. SI.1990.012
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

SE-LOC-TA,
A CREEK CHIEF

Published ca. 1836-44 by Rice, Rutter & Co. Philadelphia. SI.1990.013
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

FOKE-LUSTE-HAJO,
A SEMINOLE CHIEF

Published ca. 1836-44 by Rice, Rutter & Co. Philadelphia. SI.1990.014
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

YAHA-HAJO,
A SEMINOLE WAR CHIEF

Published ca. 1836-44 by Rice, Rutter & Co. Philadelphia. SI.1990.015
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

MICANOPY,
A SEMINOLE CHIEF

Published ca. 1836-44 by Rice, Rutter & Co. Philadelphia. SI.1990.016
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

CHIPPEWA SQUAW & CHILD,

Published ca. 1836-44 by Rice, Rutter & Co. Philadelphia. SI.1990.017
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

TSHUSICK,
AN OJIBWA WOMAN

Published ca. 1836-44 by Rice, Rutter & Co. Philadelphia. SI.1990.018
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

WA-PEL-LA THE PRINCE,
A MUSQUAKEE CHIEF

Published ca. 1836-44 by Rice, Rutter & Co. Philadelphia. SI.1990.019
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

WA-BAUN-SEE,
A POTTAWATIMIE

Published ca. 1836-44 by Rice, Rutter & Co. Philadelphia. SI.1990.020
H.10 1/4" X W.6 3/8" (octavo)

Figures

Fig. 1. Portrait of Charles Bird King, photograph ca.1860.

Fig. 2. Stereograph of the Picture Gallery in the Upper Main Hall, Smithsonian Building looking toward the portraits of American Indians by John Mix Stanley and Charles Bird King. The Smithsonian's guidebook listed 152 paintings by Stanley and 139 by King on exhibit in the gallery.

Picture Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, 1858, by: American Stereoscopic Co., Langenheim, Lloyd & Co.
Albumen print on paper, yellow colored cardboard mount, 3.25" x 6.75"
SI.2004.021.

Fig. 3. Stereograph of the Picture Gallery in the Upper Main Hall in the Smithsonian Building looking toward a corner of the room which contained a copy by John Gott of the ancient Greek statue the "Dying Gaul." Behind the statue, hung salon style, were the portraits of American Indians and Indian Life painted by artists John Mix Stanley and Charles Bird King.

Picture Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, 1858, by: American Stereoscopic Co., Langenheim, Lloyd & Co.
Albumen print on paper, yellow colored cardboard mount, 3.25" x 6.75"
SI.2004.020.

Fig. 4. Wood block print of the Picture Gallery in the Smithsonian Building from the 1858 Smithsonian guidebook.

Fig. 5. Heavily re-touched photograph of the fire which destroyed the upper floors of the Smithsonian Building, January 24, 1865. Taken by Alexander Gardner, Washington, DC. Courtesy Smithsonian Institution Archives.