People who have visited New York rave about the Whitney Museum there. I want to put in a plug for the Whitney Western Art Museum, in Cody, Wyoming. It is one of five museums which make up the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a truly wonderful complex which provides a comprehensive view of the life and history of this most interesting region. In the couple of half-days we had available, I only had time to explore the Whitney Western Art Museum and the Buffalo Bill Museum. I found both enthralling, and look forward to another visit in the future.
The Whitney Museum was a surprise. The masterpieces of many very famous American painters are on display here: N.C. Wyeth, Frederic Remington and Edgar Paxson are names I knew. Paxson’s huge Custer’s Last Stand is an iconic painting of the historical event which is full of exact detail, drama and pathos. The museum is particularly rich in Remington paintings: his vivid scenes of local life, his landscape studies, and a recreation of his studio, built in 1892 at New Rochelle, New York. Like Buffalo Bill Cody, one of Remington’s goals was to make the west known to easterners. His painting of a horse on a narrow mountain road, and Wyeth’s view of the Round Up on a similar road, puts our own experience of the switchbacks on the Beartooth into context. How they did it in their day is beyond belief.
The range of the collection is most impressive. I particularly liked several old paintings by George Catlin depicting the life rituals of the Mandan Indian people. And it was fun to find Russell’s 1915 painting of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arresting outlaws, presumably north of the 49th parallel. Paintings of the landscape, wildlife, Indians, and of settlers moving west are compelling, as are the many depictions of the clash between the Indians and the American military. Among the many sculptures of people and animals, I most admired Walter Matia’s “The House of Lords and Marsh Grasses,” maybe because herons are my favourite birds and this particular rendition was totally arresting. The more modern art is an extremely varied collection, some whimsical and amusing, others profoundly disturbing. For a virtual tour of the Gallery, see the on-line collection on the website of the Center.