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After Albert Bierstadt - Last of the Buffalo


After Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), German-American
Last of the Buffalo, 1891
Gift of Mrs. Horace Fairbanks

The original 1888 painting upon which this print is based, now in the collection of the Cor­coran Gallery of Art in Washington, became a lightning rod of controversy when it was rejected from a major international exhibition in Paris in 1889. The exhibition's jury cited the work's failure to address the current state of American art, meaning the modernist aesthetics of the day. Although stylistically outdated by the late 188os, the work's subject directly addressed contemporary concerns. Beginning in the 1870s, buffalo were being systematically destroyed by over-hunting and changes in habitat brought on by settlement and agriculture. In 1886, alarmed by the scarcity of buffalo, the chief taxidermist of the Smithsonian Institution established the first preservation movement to protect the buffalo from extinction. In his composition, Bierstadt expanded beyond the imminent extinction of the buffalo, however, tying their fate together with that of the Plains Indians. Bierstadt's vision of the western landscape in Last of the Buffalo differs dramatically from others in the Athenaeum's collec­tion, particularly those by Worthington Whittredge and Samuel Colman.