THOMAS WORTHINGTON WHITTREDGE (1820-1910)
THOMAS WORTHINGTON WHITTREDGE (1820-1910)
THOMAS WORTHINGTON WHITTREDGE (1820-1910)
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THOMAS WORTHINGTON WHITTREDGE (1820-1910)
5 More
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION
THOMAS WORTHINGTON WHITTREDGE (1820-1910)

A Wagon Train on the Plains, Platte River, Colorado

Details
THOMAS WORTHINGTON WHITTREDGE (1820-1910)
A Wagon Train on the Plains, Platte River, Colorado
oil on canvas
11 x 21 ¾ in. (27.9 x 55.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1866.
Provenance
The artist.
(Probably) Sale: Artist's Fund Society, New York, 21 December 1866, lot 14, sold by the above.
(Probably) H.B. Turner, acquired from the above.
Private collection, Englewood, New Jersey, 1903.
Private collection, by descent, 1985.
Christie's, New York, 5 December 1986, lot 40, sold by the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Literature
"Our Third Annual Winter Art Show," American Heritage, vol. 38, no. 8, December 1987, pp. 74-75, illustrated.
O.C. Assunção, et al., The Art of Juan Manuel Blanes, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1994, pp. 196, 199, no. 127, illustrated.
K.J. Myers, “'Type of a Back Civilization': Worthington Whittredge’s Santa Fe,” The Yale Journal of Criticism, vol. 11, no. 1, Spring 1998, pp. 124-25, fig. 4, illustrated.
Exhibited
(Probably) New York, National Academy of Design, Seventh Annual Exhibition of the Artist's Fund Society, December 1866, no. 14 (as Scene on the Western Plains).
Forbes Magazine Galleries, American Heritage Winter Art Show, December 1987.
New York, Forbes Magazine Galleries, American Heritage Winter Art Show, January 27-February 27, 1993, pp. 13-14, illustrated.
New York, Americas Society Art Gallery; Miami, Florida, Center for the Fine Arts; Tucson, Arizona, Tucson Museum of Art, Life in a Boundless Land: The Goucho Scenes of Juan Manuel Blanes, September 27, 1994-June 18, 1995.
Iowa City, Iowa, University of Iowa Museum of Art; Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum; Omaha, Nebraska, Joslyn Museum of Art, Plain Pictures: Images of the American Prairie, July 1, 1996-July 27, 1997, pp. 68-70, fig. 35, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

A champion of the American landscape, Worthington Whittredge dedicated himself to capturing the panoramic beauty of his home country. The artist was particularly transfixed by the Western frontier, which he first visited in 1865 while accompanying General Pope on an expedition to the Rocky Mountains and into New Mexico. Recalling the unfamiliar landscape, Whittredge wrote: “I had never seen the plains or anything like them. They impressed me deeply…Whoever crossed the plains at that period…could hardly fail to be impressed with its vastness and silence and the appearance everywhere of an innocent, primitive existence.” (J.I.H. Baur, ed., The Autobiography of Worthington Whittredge: 1820-1910, New York, 1969, p. 45)

Indeed, the present work illustrates the sweeping grandeur that Whittredge saw on his initial trip West. Without a completed railroad system to traverse the plains, explorers traveled on horseback and covered wagons. Whittredge himself undertook the journey on horseback, following the Oregon Trail overland through the Nebraska Territory, before joining the southern bank of the the Platte River to Denver, Colorado. Of his travels the artist recalled: “while the officers were lounging in their tents and awaiting their dinners, I went to make a sketch, seldom returning before sundown.” (The Autobiography of Worthington Whittredge: 1820-1910, p. 45) Upon his return to New York in 1866, Whittredge began to adapt his sketches into oil paintings, such as the present work.

Painted soon after his return east, the all-embracing horizon and winding river dominate A Wagon Train on the Plains, Platte River, Colorado. In the foreground, lush greenery lines the water, which is speckled with subtle sunlight. The sky is clear, with only a few clouds, allowing the viewer to experience the seemingly endless expanse of the plains. In the near distance cattle graze alongside a group of wagons, likely representing the artist’s expedition group. The low vantage point and panoramic views of Whittredge’s plain pictures emphasize the endless wonder that the undiscovered frontier offered, acting as a visual representation of the hopes of those settlers that had traveled the Oregon Trail before him. As Ken Meyers explains of the present work, Whittredge “directs the viewer’s attention to the central grouping of three riders on dark horses who look beyond the wagons to an open distance which seems to symbolize limitless opportunity.”’(“'Type of a Back Civilization': Worthington Whittredge’s Santa Fe,” The Yale Journal of Criticism, vol. 11, no. 1, Spring 1998, p. 125)

A Wagon Train on the Plains, Platte River, Colorado strikingly represents the untouched expanse of the American West, ripe for discovery and representative of Manifest Destiny. Whittredge’s portrayal of the plains clearly communicates his amazement with his surroundings. In a time when America was recovering from the Civil War and reckoning with the advent of an industrial future, the plains represented an untapped source of American greatness.

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