The work by Albert Bierstadt entitled The last of the Buffalo II is part of a set of paintings that focus on the massacre of the buffalos in the American West. The main painting from this series, The last of the Buffalo, was finished in 1888, meaning this particular one is probably from around the same time.
This subject is very different from the ones that made Bierstadt famous. Being one of the first artists to render the Western landscapes, which he did in beautiful masterpieces, made him the conveyor of the natural charm that this newly explored part of the United States had. This might have influenced many Americans to try anew in this paradisiac land. As a consequence, the number of wild buffalos, which was incredibly high back when Bierstadt first visited the West, went down to almost extinction due to hunting. The species became endangered.
Even though Bierstadt himself was a hunter, the contrast he saw between the American West of ten or twenty years before and the one then was so massive, that the artist joined the first organization of the country that worked with preservation of wildlife and habitat: The Boone and Crockett club. The concept of this organization was not to forbid hunting, but to maintain it at safe levels for the ecosystem. This painting, as well as the other ones from this series, tries to call attention to this matter.
In the composition we see an indigenous man with a spear, adorned with feathers, riding a white horse. Both he and the horse have feathers on their heads. The man is hunting a buffalo. The scene shows the exact moment when the animal is struck, and the horse stands only on its back legs. Because the end of the spear is behind the horse, just as the buffalo is, this is not visible. The scene takes place on a field of yellowish grass, giving an overtone of death. The sky, in the background, is cloudy, painted with only shades of grey, reinforcing this morbid atmosphere.
Even though the decimation of the buffalos was mainly caused by the white, European men, the rendering of a native American in this canvas is supposed to represent hunting more broadly. Bierstadt's choice of theme was criticised at the time, but taking into consideration the values and mentality of that period, the artist's intentions were still respectful and worthy.
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