American Western Art | Hudson River School Paintings

Western Grandeur

Mishele Begun | November 17th, 2014 | Posted in Events and Exhibitions, News

This fall the Palm Springs Art Museum is presenting an exhibition of landscape and genre paintings in a show entitled A Grand Adventure: American Art of the West.The show explores the work of artists who were drawn to the novelty of the expanding western territories. Their works became expressive of American ideals and illustrate the influence that paintings had on western settlement and tourism. The connection between American landscape paintings and western expansion can also be traced in some of the artworks we have here at Questroyal such as Albert Bierstadt’s Mariposa Big Tree Grove, Yosemite from 1872 and Thomas Moran’s A Side Canyon, Grand Canyon, Arizona from 1905.

Bierstadt, Mariposa Big Tree Grove, Yosemite, western painting, Hudson River School

Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902)
Mariposa Big Tree Grove, Yosemite, 1872
Oil on paper mounted on canvas
21⅞ x 30 5/16 inches
Monogramed lower right: AB
Currently available at Questroyal Fine Art.

Though Bierstadt’s painting was completed thirty-three years before Moran’s, both works say a lot about the influence of American landscape paintings on westward migration. Bierstadt’s Mariposa Big Tree Grove, Yosemite depicts the trunk of a single Giant Sequoia tree atop a summit in Yosemite. Beyond the Giant Sequoia in the left foreground the scene expands, taking the viewer’s gaze from the tree trunk through the woodlands, past the mountains, and finally to the horizon. His composition can be seen as an expression of limitlessness and natural beauty which exemplifies the grandeur of the western frontier. In the early 1870s, when the transcontinental railway was gaining headway, scenes like this made reporters deem Bierstadt “the famous artist who has done more than any other person . . . to bring Yosemite Valley into publicity.” (1)

Years later, in May of 1901, the Santa Fe Railroad sponsored a trip to the Grand Canyon as part of an effort to promote the railroad. (2) It was on this excursion that Moran made a statement to a publicist in which he declared that it is only through the depiction of one’s homeland that a distinctly American character can be formed in artworks. This went hand in hand with Moran’s thought that there is an inherent nationalism in art, which he sought to embrace. (3) His luminous portrayal of a dawning sun on the side of the canyon in A Side Canyon, Grand Canyon, Arizona exudes a majesty in nature that is both expressive of his love for the American landscape as well as growing sentiments surrounding the expansion of the American frontier such as self-reliance, freedom, and individualism.

Moran, A Side Canyon, Grand Canyon, western painting, Hudson River School

Thomas Moran (1837–1926)
A Side Canyon, Grand Canyon, Arizona, 1905
Oil on board
14 x 20 inches
Monogrammed and dated lower left: TMORAN. 1905.
Currently available at Questroyal Fine Art.

The Palm Springs Art Museum brings together a number of artists who were similarly inspired by the American West and contributed to its popularity, including Walter Ufer, Edgar Payne, and Carl Oscar Borg. A Grand Adventure: American Art of the West explores how these artists were united in their belief that “the future of American Art was in Western art.” (4)

1. Fresno Weekly Expositor, December 1874, quoted in Nancy K. Anderson, Albert Bierstadt: Cho-looke, The Yosemite Fall (San Diego: Timken Art Gallery, 1986), np.
2. Thurman Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966), 216.
3. Ibid., 218.
4. “Grand Adventure: American Art of the West,” Palm Springs Art Museum, accessed November 12, 2014, http://www.psmuseum.org/palm-desert/exhibition/grand-adventure-american-art-the-west-/