Museum Minute: A Painting Documents A New Technology

Mar 25, 2019

Eerelman, Buffalo Bill and the Wild West Show, 4.15.2
Credit Otto Eerleman (1839–1926). Buffalo Bill and the Wild West Show, ca. 1887. Watercolor, 27.25 x 38.625 inches (framed). Gift of Sue and Wes Dixon

A watercolor painted in the late 19th century features the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show in action. But the painting doesn't only document the historic show in London but also a new technology.

"I think the most interesting thing about this painting is the inclusion of a spot light," said Karen McWhorter, the curator of the Whitney Western Art Museum. "There is from the upper left corner a spotlight shining down on this central action."

The spotlight was a new technology just invented in 1880.

The watercolor was probably painted in 1894 when Buffalo Bill toured in London. Otto Eerelman was a Dutch painter best known for his depictions of dogs and horses. But he also painted the princess and queen of the Netherlands. McWhorter said he was very affected by his visit to London where he saw the Wild West Show since he painted other western themed paintings from this one experience.

McWhorter said Eerelman painted the spotlight as a central feature of the show.

"[He] showed it here as a central feature of the Wild West show adding so much to the drama of this performance," said McWhorter.