The Emigrants Crossing the Plains, an oil painting by the German American artist Albert Bierstadt, was created in 1867. It shows a breath-taking scene of the Oregon Trail at sunset.
The composition converges into the setting sun. All elements direct the viewer's eyes to that area of the canvas. The emigrants seem to be walking toward the bright light, along with a wagon, horses, cattle and other small animals. The bottom left corner in the foreground is taken by a fallen tree. The colors used on it are dark browns, the same as the ones used in the mountains on the right side of the picture.
These dark tones on the borders of the canvas create a frame for the scene. The emigrants are highlighted, as they are all covered in sunlight. On the left side of the composition, there are enormous trees. At first sight, they seem simple, regular-sized trees, but when in comparison to the tiny men walking the trail, we can see their magnitude.
The colors are of astonishing beauty. Bierstadt applied the Romantic contrast style in this painting, which consists in one light focus and a great deal of canvas’ area in shadow. The sun is almost white and the sky surrounding it an intense yellow, which turns to orange and, on the right border, turns dark grey and blue, for the sky is cloudy.
This is a subject which gave Bierstadt a significant amount of recognition. He was the most celebrated painter of Western American landscapes. In his lifetime, he became famous among the art buyers. His works were usually monumental and showed paradisiac sceneries. However, the most critical aspect of his artistic production is the political one. Maybe he would not have achieved so much if he were not depicting the American West during the 19th century, with the civil war and all that came along with it.
As the United States of America started the occupation of the American West, they needed as many people as possible to establish new cities there. With Bierstadt’s works, as people were amazed by the natural beauty their country held, they were encouraged to move to this new world of the West. Some historians say that Bierstadt influenced the Americans in their decision to move to this mesmerizing land, boosting the Westward Expansion.
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