Museum Minute: Automobiles In Yellowstone National Park

Dec 3, 2019

Old Faithful by Carl Preussl
Credit Whitney Western Art Museum

Cars were first allowed in Yellowstone National Park in 1915, starting a popular new way to explore the park through auto tourism. In an effort to promote tourism in the park, artists were commissioned by auto tourism companies to help advertise Yellowstone National Park.

Karen McWhorter, the curator of the Whitney Western Art Museum, said there is one painting in the Whitney’s collection that really showcases this new approach to seeing Yellowstone.

"If you take time to look at the figures in the foreground, which are dwarfed by the spewing geyser, there are women in fur-lined coats. There are fabulous jackets and hats. Everyone seems to be fashionable. Walking as they are along the geyser terrace, which certainly wouldn't be allowed today," described McWhorter. "But tourism was a little different in the park in the 20s and importantly what you'll notice in the foreground is a couple of cars."

The painting is of Old Faithful by German born artist Carl Preussl. McWhorter said Preussl was a Chicago artist for most of his life, painting city scenes.

"He always included elements of industry so smoke from factories, train tracks, and steel gray and upwards stretches of skyscrapers," said McWhorter. "The fact that he would include automobiles in this scene of natural beauty I think speaks to that background."

McWhorter said the Whitney has a few other similar paintings showcasing cars in nature scenes.