The American West: Manifest Destiny, or Not?

The American West: Manifest Destiny, or Not?

Spanning over a century, the Blanton’s collection of Western art features a range of perspectives, including romanticized images of both the American cowboy and vanishing Native American cultures. Many of the artists subscribed to the nineteenth-century doctrine of Manifest Destiny—the belief that the U.S. was predestined to expand across the entire continent. Painter Albert Bierstadt, for example, described the frontier land as “a wellspring of amazement and wonder…an American Garden of Eden.” Such enthusiastic accounts and idealized images encouraged waves of new settlers, even as Bierstadt and many of his contemporaries glorified Native cultures as vestiges of an untouched, preindustrial world. Other artists documented the dwindling of Native American nations—the result of U.S. government forces and the territorial expansion. The majority of the Blanton’s holdings of art of this genre comes from the celebrated collection of UT Austin alumnus C.R. Smith. Beginning in 1972, Smith gave the Blanton (then the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery) nearly one hundred paintings, sculptures, and works on paper primarily devoted to western subjects.

Crossing Boundaries: The Art of the Art Trade

Crossing Boundaries: The Art of the Art Trade

Like today’s art market, systems of trade drove much art production in the nineteenth century.
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Image of several jagged buttes at sunset, with the entire image bathed in golds and yellows. Trees and a reflective lake are in the foreground.

Painting the American Sublime

For artists such as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, and Thomas Hill, the American West was a vast frontier of epic scale, with seemingly endless horizons and equally infinite possibilities. These artists’ common belief in sublime experience—a concept borne from German Romanticism—is made manifest in their landscapes.
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Image of a Sioux squaw, or Native American woman, is wrapped in a Navajo blanket and perched atop a craggy valley rendered in thick oil impasto.

Hard Times in the American West

It’s no secret that life on the frontier in the early- and mid-nineteenth century was difficult. Landscapes transformed, families dispersed, and loved ones were lost.
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Image of a large tree with several cows grazing, and a cowboy in the foreground.

Kicking Up Dust: Horses, Cows, and Buffalo, Oh My!

Like today’s art market, systems of trade drove much art production in the nineteenth century. The railroad precipitated other changes in art production, too: as mass-produced pottery arrived on trains from industrialized cities, a desire for finely crafted ceramics emerged.
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