John White (1540-1593) was an artist and mapmaker whose portraits were rendered mostly in watercolor. He was the first British artist in the Americas, and the first European to paint Native Americans. He was also governor of the colony at Roanoke Island (1587).
Someone over at Live Journal has rounded up a collection of his paintings from the period between 1585-1593. What’s fairly incredible about the paintings is that they have a realistic, documentary approach to them, but it’s also difficult to tell if any of the paintings were exaggerated to make the indigenous populations seem more “savage.”
The set also includes several of Scottish Picts, but that culture merged with the Gaels around the beginning of the 10th Century, or some five hundred years or so before White was born; so those illustrations are pure fantasy. In all likelihood, they are paintings of early Scottish tribes and were mislabeled.
His depictions of Native Americans, however, are not fantasy. His paintings show various Native American cultures in all their splendid and now-gone differences from the Northern tribes of Canada all the way south into Florida.
There is some debate as to whether John White’s images are the first actual images of Native Americans, but almost certainly they are not. Still, they do provide one of the most complete and earliest depictions in the historical record.
Here are a few that caught our eye.