Share The Illusion of the American Frontier

Introduction

The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is presenting an exhibition which, for the first time in Spain, sets out to trace the footsteps of the artists who explored the American West in the nineteenth century, taking up the challenge of showing its unknown and exotic scenery and depicting the American Indians’ ways of life that were disappearing before their eyes as a result of an ideological, political, military and colonising effort.

These artists very soon helped create an ‘illusion’ of the Wild West, combining Romantic enthusiasm and genuine admiration with the clichés, prejudice and expectations that clouded the white man’s gaze. This image shaped the myth of the savage Indian living on the prairies in communion with nature – a far cry from the vision that was popularised years later by movies, which focused on showing the point of view of the colonisers and the hardship and dangers they had to contend with.

Through a selection of paintings and photographs by artists such as Karl Bodmer, George Catlin, Henry Lewis, Albert Bierstadt, Edward S. Curtis and Carleton E. Watkins, among others, the exhibition explores this fascinating chapter in art history, which is little known in this country.

A few of the canvases belong to the permanent collection of the Museum – the only one in Spain that owns works by these painters – and reflect Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s love of stories of the West in literature, films and art.

Imagen de la Exposición

Edward S. Curtis
An Oasis in the Badlands, 1905
Photography, gelatin silver. 15.2 x 20.2 cm
Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.