Art History:   Grade 3 Lesson 6

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Art Periods

  Red White and Blue Art - Western Art


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 Cupboard"


  1. Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, c. 1845, 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 river boatmen.
    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 the painting?

    Is the main feature of this painting horizontal or vertical? 



  2. 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 Parks system.

    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


  3. The Scout: Friends or Foes, c.1900-1905, Frederick S Remington, American (1861-1909) 68.6 x 101.6 cm oil on canvas, Clark Art Institute, MA Reproduction print.
  4. 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.


  5. 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.


  6. 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 by E I Couse
    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.


    bulletE I Couse - Biography


  7. Riders of the Dawn, 1935, Frank Tenney Johnson, American (1874-1939) Anschutz 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.

    see also Kindergarten Lesson 4 for this painting and artist.


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