The American West in the Collection of Richard P. Mellon
Westward expansion in the United States during the 19th century gave American artists a new subject to explore and a platform on which they could pursue a ‘national art’ that would reflect their young nation’s ideals of freedom and exploration. Artists such as Charles Marion Russell, Frederic Remington, Benjamin West and George Catlin captured the changing landscape and shifting demographic of the West during this period. Some works focused on the landscape in a European tradition, aiming to capture with accuracy the incredible views and vistas not seen before. Many of these works became valuable historical resources, documenting the development of the US as the country expanded and representing the lofty democratic values of America. The displacement and conflict with Native Americans was addressed by artists in varying ways, often glorified in heroic landscape and battle paintings. Other artists, such as Catlin, took this period of discovery and exploration to document what they saw. Catlin’s portraits of Native Americans in more than fifty tribes across the country provided valuable insight into the lives and rituals of the indigenous peoples of the new western states.
Artists continued to find inspiration in the landscapes, people and lore of the great American West well into the 20th century. With development, came an understanding of the natural resources of the new territories and the need to protect them. Some artists working in the Western Art tradition focused on idealized images of the ‘Old West’ and the ‘Cowboys and Indians’ narrative, while others incorporated the topographic and social changes they saw into their work in more progressive ways. During the 1920s and 30s, a style of Western Modernism developed, bringing a totally new aesthetic to the Western landscape.
Given Richard Mellon’s interest in nature, history and preservation of the environment, it is no wonder that his collection is rich in the area of Western art. Highlights include a fine selection of bronzes by Harry Jackson, Charles Marion Russell, Frederick William MacMonnies and Pat Mathiessen. Of particular interest in the collection is a drawing by Frederic Remington titled Searching the Slain. This drawing was published in the June 1895 issue of The Cosmopolitan as one of five illustrations for a story by Dan De Quille titled An Indian Story of the Sierra Madre. Remington was a talented illustrator and draftsman whose career began in 1886 as an artist-correspondent for Harper’s Weekly during the US Army’s battle against Geronimo and his followers. Remington produced ink and wash drawings for commercial reproduction in other publications and then began to sell them in art exhibitions. A commission to make eighty-three illustrations for Theodore Roosevelt’s book, Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, brought increased interest in his work and forged a life-long relationship with Roosevelt. Remington’s bronzes of cowboys and cavalry are some of the most-collected sculptures of the American West.
Time & Location
Thursday, March 25 at 11am ONLINE