Museum Minute: An Epic View Of The West

Aug 6, 2019

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). Island Lake, Wind River Range, Wyoming, 1861. Oil on canvas, 27.1875 x 41.25 inches.
Credit Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Museum Purchase. 5.79

When you think of epic Western landscapes, what comes to mind is probably those of Albert Bierstadt. Karen McWhorter, the curator of the Whitney Western Art Museum, said he stood out as a Western painter because he really brought 1800’s East Coast and European audiences to a scene they otherwise couldn’t imagine. 

She said the painting Island Lake really struck viewers who’d never visited the Wind River Range in central Wyoming. 

“We’re at an elevated point. We’re essentially standing on top of a waterfall looking down a soaring canyon that looks down at a lake and to the valley below,” described McWhorter. “We really have command of this scene. There’s no other sign of humans.”

One cannot hike to this actual vantage point in the Wind Rivers because Bierstadt combined different elements from different vantage points to create the most artful perspective.

“In the 1860s seeing something like this. It would've been unimaginable for folks, but Bierstadt brought it to life for them,” said McWhorter.