The natural landscapes of the American West captivated artists from around the world at the beginning of the 20th century — and today, the Blanton Museum of Art staff hopes the paintings those artists produced are equally ready to captivate visitors.
Docent Marion Werner led a tour Thursday of the Blanton’s C.R. Smith Collection of western art, titled “The Changing American Landscape.”
“In the late 1800s and early 1900s, [painting the American West] is what the artists were doing in the United States,” Werner said.
Werner said William Robinson’s “Leigh The Roping,” a 1914 painting featuring a cowboy riding a horse, focuses on the wildness of the West.
“What is it that you see when you look at [the painting]?” Werner said. “Can you see the sand coming all up? You can feel the dust, the wind. There is almost a sound when you look at it.”
The tour also looked at paintings depicting Native Americans during the era of westward American expansion. Werner said Albert Bierstadt, who painted “Sioux Village near Fort Laramie” in 1859, admired the strong connection between Native Americans and their environment.
“He had this idea that the [Native] Americans had this natural world,” Werner said. “It is a pastoral [painting] — look at the way the Indians live.”
English junior Jonas Kleinkert, an exchange student from Germany, said he has had a fascination with the American West since he was a child.
“I always wanted to be a cowboy when I was a kid,” Kleinkert said.
Mimi Deaton, a volunteer at the Blanton, said she found “Leigh The Roping” especially compelling.
“In general, I like it because it’s lively — movement, horses stampeding — lively,” Deaton said. “It evokes West Texas. I actually grew up in North and East Texas, which [has] tiny trees, but that stuff — the colors and the landscape — that’s West Texas.”
Deaton also said few of the artists painting the American West were originally from the area.
“A lot of them were not from the out-West area,” Deaton said. “They were from Europe or the East Coast, and they went out and painted the West.”
Werner said the painters featured in the Smith Collection were seeking to portray an American identity.
“How do you express the land of the free?” Werner said.