Charles M. Russell’s most impressive and iconic 1914 oil, Whose Meat?, depicts the first moments in a standoff between man and “the beast that walks like a man”—a grizzly bear. The hunter, having just shot a bighorn sheep, sees an upright grizzly closing on his game. Holding his shying horses, he tries to mount his rifle. The moment is supremely tense, and Russell deftly heightens this by positioning the hunter on a slope of slippery boulders backed against a cliff face. Snow on the ground and the clouds rising behind the bear hint at a quick squall that might belie the beautiful snow-capped, sun drenched peaks in the distance and obscure the scene in freezing fog. Whose Meat? becomes What Next?
The majesty of Yosemite was one of the many spectacular natural wonders Hudson River master Albert Bierstadt painted. In 1866, Bierstadt was commissioned to paint a picture for the rotunda of financier Le Grand Lockwood’s home in Norwalk, Connecticut. Before the finished painting, Domes of the Yosemite—which measured 9 1/2 x 15 feet—left the artist’s studio, Bierstadt painted this smaller version so it could be reproduced as a chromolithograph. With great attention to textures, he gives us a view of Upper Yosemite Falls on the left and the Merced River winding its sinuous way toward Half Dome. The shafts of light and the framing of the composition give the effect of a window into a lost Eden.
N. C. Wyeth, known for his classic illustrations of novels like Treasure Island, also painted a number of magnificent Westerns and Roping Horses in the Corral is arguably the finest of these. Steeped in the dust and sweat of the cowboy’s life and work, the painting is a study in power against power, muscle against against muscle. The horses’ nostrils flare. Their manes fly. Their eyes are wild and their sinews are braided tightly. As the two cowboys at the rear struggle to keep their feet, the figure nearest us plants his, and the effect is as if he is trying to weld his feet to the Western earth as he readies himself to throw his lariat.