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Worthington Whittredge - On the Plains, Colorado

Worthington Whittredge (1820-1910), American
On the Plains, Colorado, 1872
OIL ON CANVAS, 30 x 50 inches
Gift of Horace Fairbanks

A relative latecomer to the American landscape movement, having spent much of his early career in Europe, Worthington Whittredge rapidly became its leading proponent during the 1860s, drawing American artists further in the direction of contemporary European aesthetics. His ascendance peaked in the mid-1870s with his election to the presidency of the National Academy of Design in New York. Whittredge's style is characterized by sharp focus and compositional symmetry, balancing elements of the scene like weights on a scale, rather than leading our eyes through the landscape in a narrative sequence.

Originally from Ohio, Whittredge gained a reputation for his depictions of America's western landscape. On the Plains, Colorado revisits what was undoubtedly the artist's most iconic work, Crossing the Ford, Platte River, Colorado (1868, revised in 1870). Whittredge actu­ally returned to the site of both works in 1870, four years after his first visit in 1866, hoping to recapture his initial inspiration. On the Plains, Colorado portrays a tribe of Indians encamped peacefully along the shore of the Platte River, uninfluenced and unthreatened by the arrival of Euro-American settlers. Whittredge was not alone in his fascination with America's disappearing frontier. In his travels west, he participated in a rising tide of nos­talgia for the mythic Old West that reached fever pitch in the early twentieth century and remains widespread today.