Originally featured in Points West magazine in Fall 2011
The Last of the Buffalo by Albert Bierstadt
Albert Bierstadt’s painting The Last of the Buffalo gives us a glimpse into the past. During the last half of the nineteenth century, herds of bison that once reached into the millions were nearly exterminated. Bierstadt witnessed these occurrences and, in 1888, painted an allegorical scene to reflect this. In the foreground, thousands of bison roam the plains, symbolizing the past, while the bones of dead bison reflect Bierstadt’s present. Look even closer and notice a fallen Native American, perhaps conveying a message about the plight of Plains Indians at the time.
Bierstadt shows us how the American West changed during his lifetime. The artist was aware of the end of an era in American history, and through this painting, makes his audience think. In a way, the demise of bison herds influenced how the American West was formed and is viewed today.
Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902). The Last of the Buffalo, ca. 1888. Oil on canvas, 60.25 x 96.5 inches. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Trust Fund Purchase. 2.60