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Art of the American West from a Private Collection


Continuing through November 23, 2003, the Brandywine River Museum presents an extraordinary exhibition of distinguished western art. Art of the American West from a Private Collection offers a rare and lively look at the historic and romantic old West in 51 paintings and sculptures by world-renowned artists.

Featuring works created during the 19th and 20th centuries, the exhibition includes paintings of cowboys, American Indians, wildlife, mountains and more by luminaries such as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell and N. C. Wyeth. Bronze sculpture by Remington and others offers a dramatic dimension to the ever-fascinating story of the wild West. (right: Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Yosemite Valley, n.d., oil on board, 11 1/4 x 15 1/4 inches, signed lower left with initials conjoined "ABierstadt", Private Collection. Photograph courtesy of the Brandywine River Museum)

Artists played an integral part in the discovery and documentation of the West in the 1800s. Before television, radio and the internet, their works served as the main source for public understanding of the land beyond the Mississippi River. Known as "expeditionary painters," the earliest western artists traveled thousands of miles into uncharted territory, and, like the trappers and traders of the period, they experienced danger and adventure firsthand. Many lived among Native Americans.

Swiss artist Karl Bodmer created beautiful, detailed images of the Indian nations he encountered while exploring the Rocky Mountains during the winter of 1832. His aquatint, Indian Utensils and Arms, depicts instruments of war and peace used by the native people of the upper Missouri River. Such works by Bodmer and other early frontier painters grew in popularity as Americans grew more interested in the West.

During the Civil War, Americans began to regard the West as the land of opportunity. Landscape artist Albert Bierstadt frequently and famously painted the magnificence of the terrain after a trip to Utah, Oregon, California and Colorado in the 1860s. His idyllic images, such as Approaching Storm and Yosemite Valley, helped Americans form romantic notions of western grandeur. By 1870, Bierstadt was the most well-known American artist, and his vision of the West suited the optimism of Manifest Destiny that characterized post-Civil War America.

In 1871, painter Thomas Moran accompanied a government survey team to explore the Yellowstone region of northwest Wyoming. Like Bierstadt, Moran emphasized the grandeur of mountains and waters. From Moran's sojourns came paintings instrumental in the subsequent establishment of Yellowstone National Park. In the exhibition, Moran's Green River (1896) depicts in extraordinary color a scene near the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad, a view dominated by the natural beauty of massive buttes flanking the river. (left: Frederic Remington (1861-1909), The Frozen Sheep-Herder (The Last Watch, altern.), c.1900, oil on canvas, 27 x 40 inches, signed lower right "Frederic Remingon", Private Collection. Photograph courtesy of the Brandywine River Museum)

Following his first trip to the West in 1880, Frederic Remington spent three decades in New York painting stalwart Indians, heroic cavalrymen and lonely cowboys in glorified visions. Remington quickly gained notoriety, and magazine publishers offered him lucrative contracts to provide color images for single- and double-page spreads. The Frozen Sheep-Herder (1900) marks a turning point in his career. Harper's Weekly published the painting without accompanying text, signaling a new independence for Remington who longed to be recognized as a painter, not merely an illustrator. The Frozen Sheepherder, an impressionistic creation of a tranquil scene, contrasts sharply with many of Remington's more dynamic subjects.

Remington's contemporary, Charles Russell, also traveled West in 1880. For many years Russell lived in Montana, contentedly painting among the Indians, cowboys and cattlemen of the frontier. In Buffalo Hunt #40 (1919), Russell successfully integrates the expansive landscape with the chaotic intensity of Indians chasing buffalo. Conversely, Friends or Enemies (1922) is a portrait of motionless Native Americans on horseback representative of works from Russell's later career.

Many other artists recorded the West during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Unlike Bierstadt's and Moran's dramatic paintings, Henry F. Farny's works present intimate and sympathetic views of the land and Native Americans. In The Last Stand of the Patriarch (1906), a windblown hunter stands in the foreground contemplating a solitary, defiant buffalo.

Charles Schreyvogel's works often feature United States Cavalry engaged in daring exploits during Indian Wars. With dramatic characters, precise detail and rich color, it is possible that Schreyvogel's paintings, such as A Beeline for Camp (1903), had tremendous influence on later Hollywood film productions of the West.

In 1903, N.C. Wyeth's first published illustration for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post was a picture of a bronco rider. One year later, encouraged by his teacher Howard Pyle, Wyeth traveled to Colorado and New Mexico where he worked as a cowhand and lived with Native Americans. Many paintings based on his experiences, such as Invocation of the Buffalo Herds (1910), The Navajo Herder in the Foothills (1908), Nothing Would Escape their Black, Jewel-like, Inscrutable Eyes (1911) and The War Clouds (1908) offer dramatic, imaginative accounts of Indian life. However, Wyeth's subjects are never presented as wild or primitive, rather they are people at home with the harsh demands of the desert. In contrast to these interpretations of serene Indian life, Wyeth's Indian Lance (1909) depicts a hostile warrior in deadly pursuit of an enemy. (right: N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945), Indian Lance, 1909, 38 x 25 inches, oil on canvas, signed lower right "N.C. WHETH", cover for American Boy Magazine, September 1912, Private Collection. Photograph courtesy of the Brandywine River Museum)

As fine evidence of the continuing tradition of western art, the exhibition includes works by several mid- to late-20th century painters. From highly realistic still lifes by William Acheff to Montana landscapes by Michael Coleman, these paintings capture the West as it appears today while also alluding to its storied past.

Living today in the foothills of Arizona's Catalina Mountains, once the land of the Apache Indians, Howard Terpning has painted many award-wining works focusing on Native Americans. His paintings portray Indians quietly at daily tasks and warriors preparing for battle. Such paintings as Caution (1987), Soldier Hat (1993) and When Trails Turn Cold (1978) depict American Indians watching for animals or enemies and surviving bitter winters.

In addition to oils, watercolors and etchings, Art of the American West contains 18 bronze sculptures. Frederic Remington's Bronco Buster (c.1900, #74) was the first American sculpture of a rider on a bucking horse, and his Rattlesnake (c.1905, #95) is a remarkable work of complex composition. Also featured are Solon H. Borglum's On the Boarders of the White Man's Land (modeled in 1899, cast in 1906), Charles Schreyvogel's bronze, The Last Drop #92, which served as the model for his painting of the same name, and James Earl Fraser's End of the Trail (modeled c. 1894). (left: Frederic Remington (1861-1909), The Bronco Buster, first copyright 1895, bronze, 23 3/4 inches high, inscribed on base "copyrighted by Frederic Remington" Cast by Roman Bronze works, New York, New York, New York, No. 74, Private Collection. Photograph courtesy of the Brandywine River Museum)

Art of the American West catalogues extraordinary work of accomplished artists and serves as a testament to an era long gone but far from forgotten. These artists facilitated visions forever enshrined in the American mind.


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