The Surveyors' Wagon in the Rockies is one of the first depictions made in the history of North American art of the Western American scenery. Painted in 1859 by Albert Bierstadt, it shows an excursion through this newly discovered land.
This painting is very minimalistic if compared to the ones Bierstadt usually builds. In the right side of the canvas, we can see a wagon pulled by a horse and a donkey. Walking along it, one other donkey is tied to the cart by a rope and a horse walks along the other side of the wagon. In the background, there is a human figure. It was painted in a simple way, without details, for it is very distant from where the artist was standing. Even further in the distance, we can see some animals grazing. It is not possible to distinguish what they are, but probably more horses and donkeys.
The field has few areas of grass in the foreground, but a greenish palette where the grazing animals stand gives the idea of grassland. The mountains of the Rocky Mountain range were depicted in an extremely simple style. The usually detailed textures that Bierstadt applied to the mountains, present in almost all of his canvases, were replaced by flat blue shapes. On top of that, the sky is a gradient of clear blue, without any clouds. This is a peaceful landscape and, even though very different from what we usually find in Bierstadt’s works, it is charming.
The color palette used here is rich in tones of orange and blue. These two colors are complementary. This usage of almost only shades of two complementary colors in one canvas can also be found in some other of Bierstadt’s works like the On the Saco and Sunrise on the Matterhorn.
Bierstadt went to Europe in 1853 to refine his paintings. There he learned from the Düsseldorf Academy some techniques of the Romanticism. His teacher was an American painter that was part of the academy, but Bierstadt did not get in himself. This romantic characteristic is not very visible in the Surveyor’s Wagon in the Rockies. For it lacks contrasts of chiaroscuro.
This series of works which Bierstadt did, using the American West as the subject was the one that gave him recognition. He was able to gather a considerable wealth during his life thanks to his mastery and excellent choice of subject.
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