The oil work Oregon Trail, painted by Albert Bierstadt in 1963, shows the setting of a campfire during one of the exploratory journeys of the Westward Expansion, in which Bierstadt took part several times. This is one of the few works of this painter in which people were portraited, as he usually creates landscapes without any human interaction.
Not only is this an exception for depicting the people with whom Bierstadt did his journeys through the West of the United States of America, but also because of the importance they assume in the scene. In other composition where Bierstadt showed men riding their horses in beautiful American sceneries, they were in a much smaller proportion to the rest of the canvas.
Here, the magnitude of nature is still evident in the central tree, which takes over almost half of the entire canvas. Next to its roots, there’s the campfire burning with a yellow light. Its glow reaches even the top branches of the trees. This light effect is very characteristic of Bierstadt, who knew how to work with it so that a magic atmosphere would emerge from the painting.
This canvas shows the infrastructure of these journeys through the Oregon Trail, which connected the East and the West of the United States. Thanks to trails such as this, could Bierstadt make several sketches of the beautiful, newly discovered West. A wagon is parked by the river bank, on the left side of the painting. Two men are in the foreground, by the river. On its waters, we can see the reflection of the wagon, as well as of the moon, which shines above the carriage, on the upper left corner of the canvas, between an opening in the branches of the central tree. There’s a white horse next to the cart. On its side, there’s a man carrying wood for the fire. At least seven more men are gathered around this source of light.
Even though the artist was born in Germany, he moved with his parents to America before the age of two. Considered an American painter, he was of great importance in the Westward movement of the 19th century, for his paintings were one of the most important means of dissemination of what was this new America. Which had a significant impact on the increase of migrations to that part of the country.
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