Thomas Worthington Whittredge

1820, Springfield, Ohio – 1910, Summit, New Jersey

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Born on a farm near Springfield, Ohio, Thomas Worthington Whittredge started out as a house and sign painter in Cincinnati, then worked briefly as a photographer and portraitist in Indiana and West Virginia before turning to landscape painting in 1843. Backed by wealthy Cincinnatians, he went to Europe in 1849, where he studied at the Royal Academy in Dusseldorf. From 1854 to 1859 he worked in Rome and afterward settled in New York City to produce views of New York and New England.

Whittredge’s European landscapes were not well received, however, and it was not until he started painting typical Hudson River School scenes depicting landscapes of savage beauty and wondrous promise that he began to have success. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, civilization had encroached considerably upon the eastern landscape and Whittredge finally had to journey westward with John Frederick Kensett and Sanford Robinson Gifford to Fort Kearny in Nebraska and then the Rockies to find his source of inspiration. In 1865 – 66, with Gifford and Kensett, Whittredge accompanied Major General John Pope from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, up the south branch of the Platte River through Denver, then south along the eastern Rockies into New Mexico.

If some were disenchanted with the desolate plains and prairies, Worthington Whittredge, on his journey with General Pope was deeply moved by them: “I had never seen the plains or anything like them. They impressed me deeply. I cared more for them than for the mountains, and very few of my western pictures have been produced from sketches made in the mountains, but rather from those made on the plains with the mountains in the distance. Whoever crossed the plains at that period, not with standing its herds of buffalo and flocks of antelope, its wild horses, deer and fleet rabbits, could hardly fail to be impressed with its vastness and silence and the appearance everywhere of an innocent, primitive existence.” Whittredge made a total of three trips into the West but produced only about forty oil sketches and studio paintings based on Western subjects. Most were painted in his New York City studio from sketches made during his first journey to the West in 1866. The work in the Nebraska Art Collection is an on-site painting done along the South Platte River on his last trip in 1871.

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Thomas Worthington Whittredge, Cattle Grazing Along the Platte, oil on canvas,1871