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Changing Perspectives of Native Americans


The artworks in this focused exhibition—created by both European and Euro-American artists—reflect shifting attitudes toward Native Americans over the course of the nineteenth century. The very earliest images are documentary:  recording characteristics and customs of the native residents of North America. In the wake of Indian Removal after 1830, the documentary emphasis grew into more romantic renderings, shaped by the idea of the “Noble Savage” who lived in nature beyond civilization’s corrupting influences. Imbued with classical attributes inspired by Greek and Roman sculpture, Native Americans in American art were not only ennobled, but also framed as America’s ancient and wild counterpart to Europe’s founding civilizations. By the late nineteenth century, when Native populations had been forced onto reservations and their traditional tribal identities largely suppressed, artists responded with a nostalgia for the past and tried to recapture what they considered the exotic and romantic lifestyles of Native Americans in picturesque images of a past untouched by the present.