Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Frederic Remington (1861 – 1909)

Frederic Remington, whose birthday The Clog Almanac honors today, is one of the pantheon of those august artists whose body of works represents some of the most sublime and inspiring American art. Remington’s works captured with vivid movement and honesty the humanity that moved and worked on the great western landscapes: the working cowboys and vaqueros, the native Americans, cavalrymen and Buffalo Soldiers, the pioneers. And always their horses. 55 of Remington's canvases can be viewed here.

By the late 19th century a mythic view of the West was becoming firmly planted in the American mind. With watercolors and oils painters such as Alfred Bierstadt and Thomas Moran created stunning images that captured the immensity and grandeur of the western landscape. Their works, including the paintings and bronze sculptures of Remington exude a nobility and soaring spirituality on par with the rose windows of Notre Dame or the interior of the cathedral at Chartres – and depict the sort of landscape explored by Lewis and Clark, Ferdinand V. Hayden, Major John Wesley Powell, and well-suited for the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir. These Hudson School, American pre-Raphaelite artists, and others such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Church transposed European ideas of landscape and romanticism onto the vast reaches of the North American landscape.

Their efforts did not go unnoticed: Moran’s
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872) was purchased by Congress for the princely sum of $10,000. It and other examples of Moran’s paintings of the Yellowstone country were instrumental in the decision to designate Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park. Likewise, Bierstadt’s Domes of the Yosemite (1867), commissioned for $25,000 by New York magnate Le Grande Lockwood, helped convince Congress to establish the nation’s second national park in 1890. What greater use for art could one conceive but to convince a nation to preserve its best natural places as a legacy for posterity?

(Note to contemporary artists: Where do your works fit into this scheme?)

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