Like many of his colleagues Albert Bierstadt was captivated and awed by the beauty of the North American continent. He painted grand and sweeping scenes of the American west at a time when little was known about it to European Americans except in rumour. His use of light and space thrusts us into the sphere of the transcendent splendor of nature and its power.
Of course Native Americans knew of this beauty for many centuries prior to colonialism. They revered it as sacred, and understood that human beings and nature were not separate entities but were one in the same whose identity and destiny were inextricably linked. Today much of that land has be despoiled or is imperiled by industry and development. Protected areas are increasingly hemmed in by the interests of corporations, petroleum companies and mining, creating islands of besieged wildlife.
The battle for these last remaining lands has never ceased. The capitalist robber barons of the 21st century have never sated their lust for plunder, and Donald Trump’s executive order attempting to rescind national monuments is a living example of that sad fact. One might wonder what someone like Bierstadt, or his contemporaries in the Hudson River School, would have thought about the reckless and insane drive to rid the continent of its last remaining sanctuaries for wildlife. But looking at this painting it isn’t too difficult to imagine the sorrow he would have felt.
Kenn Orphan 2917