Sioux Village near Fort Laramie
31.8 cm x 49.3 cm (12 1/2 in. x 19 7/16 in.)
(Solingen, Germany, 1830 - 1902, Irving, New York)
North America, American
Medium and Support:
Oil on panel
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Bequest of C.R. Smith, 1991
When Albert Bierstadt painted this intimate study of a native encampment in 1859, he was twenty-nine years old and on his first journey to the American West. Accompanying an army expedition as its recorder, he sketched firsthand impressions of the new landscape and its people in pencil and pen-and-ink. Bierstadt’s spectacular western landscapes would lead within a decade to his celebration as the leading American painter of the West, but in this modest early work, it was the comparatively mundane details of native family life that captured his interest. Certain features are rendered with notable virtuosity—the lone, tall tree and the left-most teepee—but in general this work embodies a sense of quiet repose and timelessness, different from the theatrical vistas and stunning sites for which the artist is best known. Bierstadt was one of the first American observers and recorders of native life, but his intent was less scientific and anthropological than artistic: back in the studio, where he composed his monumental oil paintings, he often combined images from very different locales for dramatic effect. The camera tripod visible in this work is a remnant of another study trip by Bierstadt, who inserted it presumably to testify to his presence at the scene.