As participants in the Lewis and Clark Expedition
returned with marvelous tales of their journey, the excitement and mystery
of the new American Frontier began working its spell. Among those
attracted were people who wanted to reproduce the panorama of the land and
its people. The art of the American west portrays the beauty of the
mountains, deserts and prairies. It tells tales of the mountain men,
pioneers, gold prospectors, outlaws and cowboys. It also records the
vanishing way of life of several distinctly unique North American
cultures. Many of the artists were explorers who braved the dangers of the
frontier wilderness as members of military expeditions or railroad and
geological survey parties; others were correspondents or illustrators who
sketched Indians, soldiers and pioneers for articles which would appear in
magazines back East; some were accomplished painters who were looking for
new subject matter. All supplied an important visual record of the
westward march of our nation.
Note: Define terms such as "Western", "Frontier", "Pioneer"
Relate to software game "Oregon Trail" and book "Indian in the
- Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, c.
George Caleb Bingham, American (1811-1879), 29" x 36" oil on canvas.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Reproduction print.
|George Caleb Bingham was
a painter of the American frontier, born in Virginia and raised in
Missouri. After attempts at careers in cabinetmaking, law and
theology, he turned to portrait painting in 1810. He pursued this
until 1844 when he began to paint genre scenes of American life,
glorifying the West with paintings of fur trappers, hunters and
|Late in 1845
Bingham sent this picture to the American Art Union, New York with
the title "French Trader and Half-Breed son". The Art Union
purchased it for $75.00 and exhibited it for a few days as "Fur
Trader Descending the Missouri". For an Eastern audience, the
original title would have suggested the looser family
relationships of frontier society; but the new title was more in
keeping with the mood of serene romanticism which the picture so
brilliantly evokes. A magical setting is established with the
mirror-like river, the silvery roseate haze and the delicately
touched layered silhouettes of the trees along the shore. meeting
the direct gazes of the two travelers the viewer is drawn into
their realm and longs to join their slow, peaceful and seemingly
endless voyage. The vision is poignant since the boat will soon
slip through the mist to a modern town downstream. The dugout seen
in the painting was the most primitive of the professional craft
on the river. French traders represented a far more rugged,
isolated and independent way of life than that of the large fur
companies. Thus, this picture is a nostalgic record of an outmoded
way of life.
The man is grizzled and
mean-looking and even though his son wears a contented daydreamy
expression, he sprawls protectively across their cargo, nestling
over his rifle and the duck he has killed. The black creature tied
behind him - probably a young fox, could be a pet, but it might
just as well have been captured for it's pelt.
The two are taking their furs downriver to the
nearest trading post or perhaps St Louis, probably at the end of
the Spring hunting season. The extent of the man's liaison with
the Indian culture during his long periods in the wilderness is
most powerfully symbolized by his son. The luminous colors, rich
composition and sensuous execution make the key one of the finest
in all American painting.
Note: What is the mood of
Is the main feature of this
painting horizontal or vertical?
- The Buffalo Trail: The impending storm,
1867, Albert Bierstadt, German American (1830-1902), oil on canvas. The
Corcoran gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Reproduction print.
|Albert Bierstadt is considered one
of America's greatest painters. He was born in Solingen, Germany,
but grew up in New Bedford, MA. He traveled to Germany in 1854 to
study landscape painting. In 1859, after his return, he joined a
government expedition surveying a wagon route to the Pacific
Northwest. This journey and several subsequent trips to the West
resulted ion numerous panoramic landscapes which won immediate
acclaim and made Bierstadt a wealthy man. Although his fortunes
declined during the 1880s, his efforts to portray the Grand
Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite did much to create public
interest in America's scenic beauty and establish the National
Not too long ago, buffalo
herds wandered the Great Plains. The Plains Indians smoked buffalo
meat for their food. The clothes and shoes they wore, the tents
they slept in, were made from buffalo hide. Their bows, knives,
and hoes were carved from buffalo bone. The intestines supplied
thread. When news of the buffalo spread, a demand for their hides
in the East brought bands of white hunters to the Great Plains.
The buffalo, slow, clumsy creatures with poor eyesight, were
easily killed. It has been estimated that as many as five and a
half million buffalo were shot from 1872 to 1874.
Albert Bierstadt - Biography
- The Scout: Friends or Foes,
Frederick S Remington, American (1861-1909) 68.6 x 101.6 cm
oil on canvas, Clark Art Institute, MA Reproduction print.
- Cavalry Charge on the Southern Plains,
1907, Frederick Remington, American (1861-1909) Metropolitan Museum of
Art. Reproduction print
| Even though he was born too late
to have been involved in the early and dangerous period of
exploration, there is no single artist as well known or closely
associated in the public mind with Western art as Frederick
Sackrider Remington. The son of a newspaper publisher turned Civil
War cavalry officer, Remington was born in Canton NY and attended
Yale school of Art. In 1880, he moved west to seek his fortune.
realizing that the real frontier was rapidly vanishing, he decided
to record it in pictures before it was gone. Remington traveled
extensively in the West and in Mexico, and by the middle of the
1880s had begun to establish his reputation as a reporter of the
lives of cowboys, cavalrymen and Indians. His drawings appeared in
numerous periodicals, several of which he authored, and he was
well known for illustrations in Harper's Weekly and other
publications before establishing his reputation as a highly
successful painter and sculptor. Remington returned to the East in
1885, eventually settling in New Rochelle NY where he died in 1909
at the height of his career.
- Breaking through the Line, ,
Charles Schreyvogel, American, (1861-1912)
oil on canvas, Gilcrease Museum. Reproduction print.
|In 1893 Charles Schreyvogel
traveled west to the Ute Reservation to be a guest of the army
post's surgeon. William "Buffalo Bill" Cody , Schreyvogel's
lifelong friend and admirer had arranged for the trip so that
Schreyvogel, who suffered from severe asthma, could regain his
health. In Colorado there was a regiment of troopers who had just
returned from the Philippines. These troopers taught him to ride
and to use a rifle cavalry style. After 5 months in Colorado he
traveled to Arizona where he lived on a large ranch. On his return
to Hoboken he decided to paint a record of the violent drama
between the Indians and the cavalry during the 30 years after the
Civil War. One of Schreyvogel's greatest admirers was Teddy
Roosevelt, who encouraged his work and gave him official
permission to visit any army post or Indian reservation in the
United States. Schreyvogel used this privilege to visit the Sioux,
Ute, Crow and Blackfoot reservations. many of his paintings focus
on the action-filled confrontations of the cavalry and Plains
Indian horsemen. He painted scenes of violence and high drama, the
critical moments in battle - the attack, the hand-to-hand combat,
the heroic rescue, the desperate last stand. His canvases depict
scenes of gunfire and death on the battlefield. In Schreyvogel's
paintings the Indians are fierce and desperate warriors - men of
action halting the Western migration. The trooper is always the
hero and victor.
In Breaking through the Line, the trooper
rides straight forward, aiming his revolver at the viewer's eye so
that the viewer must experience the drama and excitement of the
battle. Behind the leader, fellow troopers have broken through the
line and thus deadened the thrust of the Indian attack. Viewing
Schreyvogel's paintings is a similar experience to watching a
Hollywood western, for the viewer shares the glory of the heroic
cavalry in defeating the savage Indian enemy in bloody battle.
- Watching for Game, c. 1920, Eanger
Irving Couse, American (1866-1936) oil on canvas, Phoenix Art Museum,
Arizona. Reproduction print.
|In 1901 Eanger Irving Couse arrived
in Taos NM to paint the Indians of the area. Several years
earlier, Couse had painted the Klikatat, Vahue and Umatilla
Indians in Oregon, but the people of these tribes were hesitant to
pose. They were frightened by the superstition that a part of
their soul would remain with the painted image and ultimately
cause their death. while working in Paris, Couse had met with
Joseph sharp, who had praised the beauty of the Taos people and
had assured Couse of the Indians' willingness to pose for the
artist. The Taos people and their routines of life at the Pueblos
satisfied all of Couse's artistic requirements and desires.
|Watching for Game
represents the change at the turn of the century in the attitude
of the American people toward the Indian. During the 19th century
the Indian was stereotyped as a savage, a threat to the progress
of civilization. Magazines and melodramas advertised horrors and
massacres by the wild men of the West. A contrasting image of the
Indian, with co-existed with the view of the Indian as enemy, was
that the Indians were no longer a threat to the settlement of the
West, for the era of Indian reprisals and uprisings was over. The
defeated Indian became the object of sympathy, and the Indian was
sentimentalized as the vanishing American.
Couse and the artists who came to Taos found an
Indian culture relatively undisturbed by the events of the 19th
century. In contrast to the stereotypes of hostile or vanquished
Indians; the Taos Indians lived as they had for centuries,
following many of the daily routines of life and the ceremonies of
their ancestors. Watching for Game depicts an everyday activity in
the life of a Pueblo Indian. Here is the beauty and poetry of life
lived in harmony with the laws of nature. Couse was truly a
romantic, and his paintings are a sincere idealization of the
beauty and equanimity of the Indian people. Couse's Indian is a
symbol of tranquility - the life as it was lived in a
pre-industrialized age. For Couse, even the shade of the Taos
Indian's skin was a fulfillment of his dream of the perfect red
man. Time and again he painted the Indian before a fire, his skin
glowing in the reflected light.
- Riders of the Dawn, 1935, Frank Tenney
Johnson, American (1874-1939)
Collection. Reproduction Print
|Johnson grew up in Iowa and
Wisconsin, developing a lasting interest in the American West. At
age 14 he ran away to Milwaukee to become an apprentice to F.W.
Heinie, a panoramic painter. He later studied with Richard Lorenz
and worked on a newspaper before moving to New York City to attend
the Art Students League. In 1904 Johnson lived on a ranch in
Colorado and began painting the western subjects he loved so well.
He soon became a successful illustrator for magazines and books;
in particular, the works of Zane Grey. Johnson settles in
California in 1920, his studio becoming the meeting place of many
famous artists. During this period he developed his "moonlight
techniques" a style of painting Indians and cowboys under night
skies which won him national acclaim.
also Kindergarten Lesson 4 for this
painting and artist.