IHAS: Artists/Movements/Ideass
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The frontier spirit is part of America's birthright, and the most tangible expression of that spirit has been the march westward throughout our 19th century history. For American pioneers the West held the promise of new lands and opportunities; for American visionaries it embodied one of the last outreaches of the imagination--a wilderness whose primeval beauties and dangers incarnated the quintessential Romantic experience. Just as composers like Cadman and Farwell or musicologists like John and Alan Lomax, with their cowboy ballads and folk tune collections, were drawn to exploit western themes, so, too, did visual artists seek to capture the drama of the land and its bold inhabitants. The best-known of these were Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Remington.

Go Next Albert Bierstadt

German-born Bierstadt, whose teachers had included the German Romantic painter Lessing, drew his initial American inspiration from the late painters of the Hudson River School. After a brief period of activity in the White Mountains, he departed for St. Louis in 1858 and then struck out on his own for the Wyoming Territory, where he spent a solitary summer sketching the American Indians, wild animals, and virgin landscape.
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, LANDER'S PEAK by Albert Bierstadt (1863)
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, LANDER'S PEAK by Albert Bierstadt (1863).

These he transformed into his grand-scale canvasses like YOSEMITE VALLEY and THUNDERSTORM IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, whose technical theatricality communicated the spirit of adventure associated with the West, and whose virtuosity lifted the viewer into the contemplation of the sublime natural realm.

Go Next Frederic Remington

Born in the year that Bierstadt's paintings were creating a stir in New York galleries, Frederic Remington studied art at Yale and New York's Art Students League before heading west for health reasons. Holding down a series of jobs from clerk to cowboy, Remington found his métier as a visual chronicler of the rugged frontier life.

With his illustrations, paintings, and sculptures of cowboys and Native Americans Remington helped to shape the romantic mythos of the heroic cowboy life. In their raw virility and ability to freeze the drama at the heat of the moment, works like his 1895 sculpture BRONCO BUSTER or his 1898 THE SCALP record the nostalgia that the white man at the turn of the century felt for the fading vigor of the Old West.

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