Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West
June 9, 2018 – September 30, 2018
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West and Gilcrease Museum partnered to present a groundbreaking exhibition titled Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West. Bierstadt (1830–1902) is best known as America’s premier western landscape artist. He was also a renowned history painter, a rarely discussed element of his legacy. This major exhibition addresses Bierstadt in context of his treatment not just of majestic mountains and lakes but more prominently of bison and American Indians, whom he approached as key subjects for his art.
Bierstadt’s history paintings conveyed moral messages as he strove to preserve the dignity of Native people like the Sioux and Shoshone, reveal the tragic slaughter of the American bison, and inspire empathy for the remnant herds of buffalo in Yellowstone National Park as the species neared extinction. The painter’s masterwork, The Last of the Buffalo (ca. 1888), stands as a powerful example of the national and international impact of Bierstadt’s art for Euro-American and Native people alike in the late nineteenth century. This and other selected works demonstrate the ways in which Bierstadt engaged with environmental and aesthetic issues of his time, and employed the subjects of Plains Indians and bison as iconic symbols of western America’s changing face.
The exhibition and namesake peer-reviewed publication stood as unprecedented examinations of one of the nation’s most significant artists. This project attracted the attention of audiences familiar with Bierstadt’s complex legacy and those interested in the histories of conservation and wildlife management in America, our national parks, and the Indigenous peoples of the American West. Looking beyond the grand manner landscapes for which he is famous, this exhibition was inspired by Bierstadt’s paintings of American Indians and bison, and thus promoted fresh, new perspectives on a beloved American artist.
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West and Gilcrease Museum, in association with Fire Tribe, Inc., produced six short films for Witness to a Changing West.
Video: The Buffalo Trail
Video: Indigenous Plains People and the Buffalo
Video: The Last of the Buffalo
Video: Animal Painter
Symposium Presentation Videos
Videos of our symposium speakers’ presentations are available on our YouTube channel. Access them here:
CLICK HERE for Wyoming Public Media’s interview with curators about the exhibition’s exploration of Bierstadt’s influence on conservation and wildlife management in America
On June 16, 2018, the Center’s Whitney Museum hosted a symposium on Albert Bierstadt. Click here for more information.
After its run at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, this Witness to a Changing West traveled to Gilcrease Museum, where it was on exhibit November 3, 2018 through February 10, 2019.