19th Century Works from MONA’s Collection

June 3 – August 17, 2008 —

The Museum of Nebraska Art (MONA) has embarked on an art acquisition campaign to add several significant artworks to its 19th century collection – a period in which artists of the day ventured to the western territories to record what they found. The works MONA hopes to acquire include those by artists Albert Bierstadt, Heinrich Bauduin Möllhausen, Alfred Jacob Miller, Jules Tavernier, and William H. Beard.

Nebraska Homestead, a smaller oil painting on paper dated 1863, is by Albert Bierstadt(1830-1902). The artist was born in Soligen, Germany, and brought to New Bedford, Massachusetts, when he was two years old. In 1854 he returned to Dusseldorf, Germany, to study painting. While in Europe he made many field trips along the Rhine, in the Alps, and in Italy, painting with fellow Americans Worthington Whittredge and Sanford Gifford. He returned to the United States in 1857 and painted eastern American landscapes. In 1859 he was invited to join the Colonel Frederick W. Lander government survey expedition that traveled through Nebraska to Colorado and Wyoming. This was the first of three trips Bierstadt made to the West. On these trips, he made oil sketches on paper and then returned to his studio where they often became large panoramic paintings. Captivated by the landscape of the West, Bierstadt built his career as a painter of large-scale, romanticized western landscapes. He achieved international acclaim and his works commanded the highest prices of the era. While he is still best known for his grand scale studio pieces that remain prominent in the collections of some of nation’s premiere museums, he is equally admired today for his perceptive on-site studies and oil sketches.

A drawing done in 1852, Counter-fire on the Plains is by the German artist Heinrich Balduin Möllhausen (1825-1905). He accompanied three expeditions to the West between 1849 and 1858. On the first one, he traveled with Duke Paul Willhelm von Wuerttemberg along the Oregon Trail through what is now Nebraska to Fort Laramie. On their return, when their horses were lost and winter was approaching, they came upon a stage bound for Independence, Missouri. The Duke left Möllhausen to fend for himself for what turned out to be several months until he was found by a friendly band of Otoe Indians who took him to Bethlehem, Missouri. This initial sojourn on the frontier lasted for over a year and provided the artist with material, not only for a considerable body of artworks, but for over 45 novels about life in the American West. Möllhausen’s art pieces were largely destroyed during World War II, and Counter-fire On The Plains is one of the few extant works.

The watercolor Indian on Horseback by Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874) features the unusual technique of a cut-out silhouette. Miller was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and studied portraiture with Thomas Sully from 1831 to 1832. In 1833 he went to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts and later at the English Life School in Rome. Upon his return, he opened a portrait studio in Baltimore which proved unsuccessful. In 1837 he moved to New Orleans where he was selected by Capt. William Drummond Stewart as artist to record an expedition to the Rocky Mountains. The journey by wagon followed what was to become the Oregon Trail through Old Nebraska Territory. Miller sketched the Native Americans along the way and also recorded the rendezvous of the mountain men in what is now southwestern Wyoming. Miller returned to St. Louis with about 166 sketches which were later developed into oil paintings in his studios in New Orleans and Baltimore. From 1840 to 1842, he lived in Stewart’s Murthly Castle in Scotland, painting oils as decorations depicting favorite episodes from the trip. In the years that followed, he produced innumerable paintings based on his experiences on the frontier.

Red Cloud Camp is a watercolor on paper dated May 23, 1874 by Jules Tavernier (1844-1899). The artist, who was born in Paris, France, served in the French Army, fighting in the Franco-Prussian War before immigrating to America. His early landscapes were exhibited in the Paris Salon, an indication of his acknowledged artistic ability. He worked for the New York Graphic and Aldine before joining Harper’s Weekly, an American magazine noted for its illustrations, where he was teamed with artist Paul Frenzeny. Harper’s sent them to Kansas, Texas, and then Denver in 1873 and 1874 to find subjects in less traveled areas. Departing from Denver, they pursued the Indian conflicts in Wyoming and western Nebraska, andHarper’s published at least eight engravings depicting this area. The visit to Red Cloud Agency (Fort Robinson) in May and June, 1874, served as subject matter for several engravings and oil paintings for both artists. After the Nebraska visit in 1874, Tavernier quit Harper’s and spent the rest of his career in California and Hawaii.

William Henry Beard created On the Prairie, a steel engraving, in 1860. Primarily known as an animal, landscape, and portrait painter, Beard received artistic instruction from his older brother and artist, John Henry Beard, while growing up in Ohio. Following his brother in pursuing an artistic career, he moved to New York City in 1845. A decade later, in 1856, Beard set off for Europe where he associated with important American artists Sanford R. Gifford andWorthington Whittredge. Upon his return to New York in 1860, he had success in creating illustrations for stories and, according to the Dictionary of American Biography, he “was condemned to paint animals acting like human beings all the rest of his life.” Six years later, Beard received a reprieve from story books when he joined the writer Bayard Taylor on a trip across the Plains to Colorado. Traveling through Nebraska, he was among the many well-known artist-explorers who were influenced by the state’s landscape.

These works represent significant additions to the MONA collection that reflects and enhances the Nebraska experience. Their addition helps to focus on the importance of Nebraska in U.S. history, and develops the MONA collection’s standing as a one of national importance.